Thursday, December 21, 2006

Some Final Comments on Volunteers in Chaplaincy (at Least for This Year)

Let’s return to volunteers in chaplaincy once again. Specifically, let’s return to PlainViews one more time. They have published another collection of comments on volunteers in chaplaincy in the Advocacy column, including one from a current volunteer, and one from a professional chaplain who began as a volunteer. I encourage you to go over and take a look. (They have decided that this will be the last column on the topic for a while, although they will continue to publish comments in TalkBack.)

Now, in discussions like this many opinions get aired, but I’m honestly not sure how many minds get changed. Some positions have been made clear.

  • There are some chaplains who decline to employ unpaid persons in pastoral care at all. While for some it is an issue of prestige, for almost all it reflects a distrust of health care administrators to either trust or learn from professional chaplains about the nature of the work, or the needs of patients.
  • There are some chaplains who are concerned about employing unpaid chaplains who do not have the credentials they would expect of paid chaplains. Once again, they are concerned about administrators; but they are also concerned about maintaining the highest level of professional competence in each patient encounter, even if that means fewer encounters.
  • There are some chaplains who are prepared to work with unpaid pastoral staff to increase the visibility of the service to patients, even if sometimes the patient’s first experience is not with the most trained or experienced person. These chaplains may also be concerned about administrators who expect certain levels of productivity.
  • There are some chaplains who must work with unpaid staff if they are to reach beyond patients in crisis to any great extent.
  • All chaplains who work with unpaid staff trade some time they might be with patients for time supervising volunteers.
  • The chaplain’s own sense of his or her own gifts, as well as some sense of administrative expectations, will contribute to each chaplain’s decision. Chaplains with an administrative bent, or with expectations from administration of participation in committees and programs, will choose differently from those who do not feel either that vocation or those expectations.

Some years ago the Association of Professional Chaplains sponsored a pilot study to learn whether it would be possible to study the practices of chaplains in one-person departments. The hope was to determine some professional standards and benchmarks based on the research. Eleven centers participated, and the results were reported at the annual meeting of APC in Cincinnati in 2002. At one end of the group, one chaplain spent about 90% of his time in patient care, and about 10% in administrative activities. At the other end another chaplain spent about 10% of his time in patient care, and about 90% of his time in administrative activities. Graphing between those two poles one could see an almost straight diagonal line as one noted how the other nine chaplains varied their balance of patient care and administrative work. The first two points we noted were that, first, we could study what those chaplains did; and, second, that each chaplain balanced his or her work according to individual choices and needs. Another point to note was, as I recall, that the greater the chaplain’s administrative time, the greater the likelihood that the chaplain would work with unpaid staff.

So, for the time being, that’s where I think we will leave this discussion. I am happy with the support of the volunteers who work with me, with their varied gifts and responsibilities. I am certainly blessed with the sense that I’m not trying to hold all this down by myself. Patients are blessed by the care that they provide. Those blessings are, to me, sufficient justification for my volunteer program.


Susan Palwick said...

During my shift last night, the last person I visited in the waiting room turned out to be a trauma nurse from another state (waiting for word on a friend). She said, "I've worked in a lot of hospitals and watched a lot of chaplains, but I've never seen one talk to people in the waiting room."

I explained that at my hospital, we're trained and expected to do that. There's a space on my printed census sheet marked "ER waiting room." She was very impressed.

This is an example of how good volunteer training can produce great results. And really, how long does it take anyone to say, "Remember to visit the waiting rooms, too?" Not a huge administrative burden!

Marshall Scott said...

The burden is not when administrators ask for something that makes sense, but when they ask for something that doesn't. Visiting with folks waiting on other patients is certainly important.