Hospital chaplains in Rome

By: Shannon Bostic

Chaplains have been around for centuries, and in the small southern town of Rome, Georgia, hospital chaplains are still in use and relevant to the community.

The Reverend Jack Foley of Floyd Medical center said that hospitals are struggling to survive nowadays, and because of that, many institutions do away with the chaplain department. However, he said hospital chaplains are still very much needed.

“It goes well beyond just going and praying with people,” Foley said. “Literally anybody can go and pray with somebody. But we [hospital chaplains] have specialized training to get at larger issues and to minister not only to patients but to family and staff throughout the hospital. It’s a very vital part of the organization. I think they’re still relevant.”

The Rev. Chris Barbieri, another hospital chaplain at Floyd Medical Center, said that hospital chaplains are not always understood.

“I don’t know that they [hospital chaplains] are fully understood or appreciated,” Rev. Barbieri said. “I think when people hear the word ‘chaplain’, they think ‘Someone’s going to try to preach to me or try to save me’, but that’s not our role as a chaplain. We are empathetic listeners who have a mix of clinical training and pastoral training.”

Hospital chaplains do not just deal with patients strictly of the Christian faith. They encounter with patients of all different kinds of faiths and spiritualities.

“I have my own tradition, but I don’t walk into a room thinking, ‘My tradition is right and your tradition is wrong,’” Barbieri said. “I am here to listen to [patients] and meet them where they are emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

Although hospital chaplains are trained listeners, their job entails other tasks, which may change on a daily basis.

Chaplains and their team must tend to patients with serious or life threatening conditions, called palliative care patients. They discuss the patient’s goals in terms of treatment and moving forward, as well as the patient’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Foley said that chaplains also meet with patients filling out an advanced directive, or a living will. They discuss with patients who would be the decision-maker if the patient is no longer able to make their own decisions, as well as what kind of life-sustaining measures they would want if their illness becomes deadly.

In addition to dealing with sick patients, hospital chaplains also talk with grieving families and friends of dying patients in the hospitals. Foley said that the daily trauma and deaths are the hardest part about being a chaplain. He said his faith is what gets him through the difficult parts of the job.

“God called me to do the work that I do,” Foley said. “So I think that he gifted me with being able to be present and compassionate toward these people.”

Despite the constant grief and suffering that hospital chaplains encounter on a daily basis, doing what they do can be very rewarding in the end.

“There are those encounters where you know you helped somebody,” Barbieri said. “You know you did something right and provided some comfort.”

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