Spiritual Care In A Medical Setting: Do We Really Need It? -- By: Dan Lioy
Spiritual Care In A Medical Setting: Do We Really Need It?
Dean of Online Studies,
Trinity College & Theological Seminary
Years ago parish ministers would volunteer their time to visit the sick and the dying in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. They might offer prayer or grief ministry, or perform a specific rite or ritual such as baptism. Times have changed, and now spiritual caregivers are typically paid staff members who have received significant amounts of specialized training (Brock and Nelson 1991, 1428). As chaplains become increasingly present with physicians and nurses at the patient’s bedside, healthcare providers are asking whether spiritual care1 is needed in a hospital setting (Marty 1985, viii).2
Some administrators, taking a purely bottom line approach, argue that spiritual care isn’t income producing. Because it doesn’t contribute to the overall profit margin of the organization, it supposedly doesn’t make good financial sense to retain one or more paid staff chaplains. Instead, the institution should ask local ministers to provide spiritual care as needed, either in a volunteer status or as independent contractors.3
Others, favoring a more holistic4 approach to healthcare, maintain that chaplains are an essential part of the patient care team. Who else, it is asked, can best address the anxiety and grief of patients, family members, and staff than chaplains? Spiritual caregivers are said to be the main individuals within the hospital who can meet with others in an unhurried fashion, and offer comfort and hope in times of crisis. It is maintained that while the services of a chaplain are not directly income producing, their ministry to the sick and dying is still of inestimable value.
With such a dichotomy of opinion about the role of chaplains within a healthcare setting, researching this topic seems useful. This paper, therefore, will investigate the following question: What place does spiritual care have within a medical setting? The intent will be to delineate the general role and functions of chaplains within institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices.
To achieve this goal, I will begin by overviewing what people in ancient times had to say about spiritual care to the sick and dying. Then I will explore the perspective of the early church on this subject. Next, I will delineate the views of the medical community (principally physicians and nurses). Lastly, I will focus on the perspect...
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