“Our staff, including many physicians, are very comfortable in praying with our patients. And I believe that is why many of us have chosen to work at Mercy Health,” said MarKay Riippa, manager, 4 Lacks, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.
Managing the inpatient cancer and palliative care unit, Riippa has seen firsthand how important it is for all care team members to address the spiritual and emotional needs of our patients, loved ones and colleagues alike. Her sentiment is echoed by the Spiritual Care Standards set forth by Trinity Health, the parent company of Mercy Health: “Caring for the human spirit is the responsibility of everyone on the health care team; chaplains are recognized as the lead resources for the spiritual component of care.”
Guided by these standards and to improve everyday access to chaplains at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, the Spiritual Care department has been reorganized to include more continual and streamlined coverage for inpatient departments across the organization, with noticeable results. Patient satisfaction in the area of Spiritual Care has improved by 13 percentage points since May 2019, in direct correlation with the changes.
“Our chaplains now rotate to work seven days a week, including weekends and holidays, and are on-call at night, in case anyone should need them,” said Scott Opperman, director, Mission Integration, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. “Seven-day coverage has helped ensure no backlogs or that we inadvertently missed patients in need because of a scheduling gap.”
All three chaplains, Rev. Tracey Taylor-Kunst, M-Div, BCC, Monica Tyler, MM, BCC, and Rev. Joachim Adione, who serve at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s are certified health care chaplains, meaning they have specialized training for the situations that arise specific to health care. This specialization enables them to not only work with patients in crisis or urgent need, but they also provide ongoing spiritual guidance and care to patients, loved ones and colleagues.
The chaplains have also been empowered to conduct one-on-one meetings with the unit managers to collaborate to create a more patient-centric approach to spiritual care, tailored to each unit’s needs across the organization.
Responding to a specific patient population’s needs, Taylor-Kunst leads chapel services within the Psychiatric Medical Unit (PMU) once a week and spiritual growth groups twice a week. “Chapel services are Christian, while the spiritual growth groups are designed to appeal to people from different religious traditions or who are no religion, agnostic or atheist,” said Taylor-Kunst. “I adapt them each time for the attendees. Some topics include, Developing Your Spiritual Care Plan, Working through Anxiety, Working through Resentment, and I also lead our patients through various prayer and meditation exercises.”
The efforts of Taylor-Kunst are appreciated by the health care team, as noted by Carey Krause, DO, medical director of Behavioral Health: “She makes an effort to connect with patients early on, as opposed to waiting for a request or a consult. She has become an essential part of the psychiatric treatment team, and I especially appreciate Tracey’s ability to engage patients in spiritual investigation and healing while fully respecting their individual belief systems.”
4 Lacks, the inpatient cancer and Palliative Care unit, represents another department that appreciates the talents and gifts of its designated chaplain, Monica Tyler.
“Always a supportive presence on the unit, Monica leads prayer huddles vital for longevity for our staff, especially due to the moral distress that is possible with the patient population we serve,” said Riippa. “Monica and our social worker have supported staff with an event called, ‘Tea for the Spirit,’ where we gather with light refreshments to reflect upon difficult times on the unit.”
Tyler has also been part of the ELNEC (End of Life Nursing Consortium), in which the care team has recently initiated “The Pause.” As appropriate, health care providers from the unit gather in a patient’s room after they pass and take a moment to reverently recognize their life, often with family members and loved ones.
“‘The Pause’” has bonded our staff together through this sacred moment and offers a final and touching embrace to family members,” said Tyler.
“Sometimes we will pray or just have a moment of silence to recognize the life that has passed,” said Riippa. “Monica has been a role model for our staff to just be present with patients and their family, and asking what is important to them.”
Spiritually caring for patients and loved ones does not end once the chaplains leave the room at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. According to the Standards, Trinity Health considers spiritual care to be an integral part of its mission and Catholic identity.
Opperman notes that this comfort level with spirituality is a unique designator for Mercy Health among health care facilities.
“It can be extremely reassuring to patients to have their surgeon or provider pray with them before their operation or as a normal part of their care plan, as they have an established relationship with that provider.”