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Chaplains crucial to hospice care

 
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1:00 P.M. EST Oct. 5, 2010 | NASHVILLE (UMNS)

The Revs. Saul Espino (left) and Dick Stewart lead the processional from the Scarritt-Bennett Center at the conclusion of the United Methodist Chaplains' Convocation in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
The Revs. Saul Espino (left) and Dick Stewart lead the processional from the Scarritt-Bennett Center at the conclusion of the United Methodist Chaplains' Convocation in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
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As more and more people seek hospice care, chaplains have a crucial role to play in leading discussions about end-of-life spiritual and medical issues, panelists at a chaplains’ convocation on hospice and palliative care said.

David Johnson, president of the Association of Professional Chaplains, told about 70 chaplains attending a meeting sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry that the hospice and palliative care focuses is the wave of the future. Hospice and palliative care focus on caring and reducing disease symptoms rather than curing an illness. Palliative care is not limited to end-of-life care and can take place at the same time as curative care.

“Hospice care is where chaplaincy is going to grow. Are chaplains going to grow with the business, or are they going to be left behind?” Johnson asked the group meeting Sept. 27-29 in Nashville.

Panelists and workshop leaders addressed best practices for hospice chaplains, self-care, future trends of hospice care and engaging the community in discussion about end-of-life issues.

“We missed a giant opportunity to have those discussions during the health care reform debate,” Johnson said. Instead of a serious discussion about how palliative and hospice care can improve the lives of the dying, the debate became about “death panels,” he said.

A looming crisis

Johnson said people need to understand that hospice care is less expensive because people make peace with their own mortality. He noted that the children of the Depression have the lowest birth rate, with the children of the baby boomers having the second-lowest. That means that while there were plenty of baby boomers to care for their aging parents, there will be far fewer to care for aging baby boomers.

“There is going to be a crisis in this country about caregiving,” Johnson said.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, an estimated 1.45 million patients received hospice care in 2008, and the median length of that care was 21.3 days. And hospice care may actually prolong the lives of some terminally ill patients. One study found that the mean survival of terminally ill patients who received hospice care was 29 days longer than for non-hospice patients.

Sally Schwab, president of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, said that even though spiritual care is a core service of hospice care, chaplains need to make themselves valuable members of the care teams. They can start by becoming good communicators.

 “We in the medical establishment fail miserably in communication. If we can be effective communicators, we can do a better job,” Schwab said. “Chaplains need to be concerned about how to be partners in symptom control, specifically related to pain.”

United Methodist Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr. (left) and Chaplain Karen Morrow (center) anoint Chaplain David Green with oil during opening worship for the convocation.
United Methodist Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr. (left) and Chaplain Karen Morrow (center) anoint Chaplain David Green with oil during opening worship for the convocation.
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She also urged chaplains to become knowledgeable about all the resources that are available in their area.

“Develop your tool kit,” she told them. “We need to be well versed in the resources needed by people facing the end of life. That is really our staple of service as well as meeting the spiritual needs of our patients.”

Helping chaplains

The Rev. Saul Espino, the board’s director of retreats and specialized ministries, said it was clear from the discussions about best practices the area of self-care is of vital importance for United Methodist chaplains serving in these stressful ministries.

“This is an ongoing process and (the board) will continue to offer retreats, convocations and workshops designed to help chaplains develop more effective practices,” Espino said.

Further professional development is also a clear need, Espino said, adding that the Board of Higher Education and Ministry will continue providing clinical pastoral education scholarships to assist chaplains to meet the standards for certification with professional bodies.

Susan Plummer, executive director of the Santa Barbara Alliance for Living and Dying, and vice president of the California Hospice Foundation, talked about how to generate conversation about end-of-life issues.

The Alliance started Befriending the Unknown, a retreat program based on the national retreat program Circles of Trust, which uses the work of Dr. Parker Palmer. “We picked 28 leaders in the community, and they are taking part in a yearlong, seasonal retreat program. We selected people we thought would have the capacity to go back and create Circles of Trust themselves,” Plummer said.

Chaplain David Johnson (left) helps lead a panel discussion about hospice care. Serving with Johnson on the panel are Chaplain Sally Schwab (center) and Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr.
Chaplain David Johnson (left) helps lead a panel discussion about hospice care. Serving with Johnson on the panel are Chaplain Sally Schwab (center) and Bishop Joe E. Pennel Jr.
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She also showed videos that were developed as a way for people to see and share their end-of-life stories as a way to reduce the sense of isolation. The videos are being posted online through YouTube.

God’s vessels

Bishop Joe Pennel, a retired United Methodist bishop and author of “The Gift of Presence: A Guide to Helping Those Who Suffer,” urged the chaplains not to neglect their own spiritual lives. He said they should practice interiority, sincerity and compassion.

“Even as God draws close to us through Jesus, so God might choose to grow close to others through us. It is our choice to be a vessel through which God can work,” he said.

Interiority means practicing silent mediation, searching the Scriptures and going about work prayerfully, he said.

“If we neglect this, we will do ministry in a hurried way. We can be tricked into spending time with the appearance of religion,” Pennel said. “Practicing interiority helps us to see the world as God sees it, to see beyond our own agendas, and take the side of the poor, defenseless and sick.”

*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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