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Spiritual Care's Holistic Role Among Staff

The hospital's senior staff chaplains: Al Henager, Robert Obol, Becky Johnson, Ashley Huber and Liz MunnsAmong the many caregiver roles at large hospitals, chaplains may be one of the most stereotyped.

Becky Johnson, one of five senior staff chaplains on The University of Kansas Health System's Spiritual Care team, is fast with a smile and a chuckle – especially when talk turns to myths about her profession.

One of the biggest misperceptions? Health system chaplains are solely associated with death.

"Many patients fear when a chaplain visits. They ask, 'Am I dying?'" said Johnson, who has been a health system chaplain six years, including four at The University of Kansas Health System. "We're available for many types of support – but most importantly to listen."

Another myth, she said, is chaplains will force their religious beliefs on you.

"The role of a chaplain is not to proselytize," she explained. "Instead, we meet patients where they are and support them in their belief systems. We also learn from patients and their families and, if it is important in their care, will often relay this information and beliefs to the medical team."

In fact, chaplains provide both spiritual and emotional support for patients, their families and health system staff. The Spiritual Care team, which is backed by seven chaplain residents and three chaplain interns, is available 24/7 to respond to traumas, codes and rapid response calls.

They also meet patients in their rooms, sometime at a patient's request or simply while rounding on nursing units. They hear confession and provide Holy Communion and other sacramental rites if the patient requests, such as anointing of the sick or baptism. Sometimes they perform weddings for patients and memorial services.

Johnson notes she and her pastoral colleagues attempt to provide a low-stress presence for patients and their families while listening to their concerns and fears.

"We do not judge, criticize or attempt to convert patients," she said. "We also can listen to the medical professionals and make sure they are speaking in terms a lay person can understand."

"We're part of the holistic care team that includes doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists," she added. "I often tell people I'm here to be a non-medical friend."

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