By Elder Boyd
Matthew 25:26 “I was sick and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:40 “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Visiting the sick is clearly cherished by the Lord as a gift given as unto Himself. Beyond that, it is just the right thing to do. We all appreciate a visit from family and friends when we are ill. That visit is even more precious when we are in a facility in which we are surrounded by relative strangers who are focused on testing, processing, documenting, and moving us physically toward being well. Often that does not include the spiritual support that we as ministers and servants of God are committed to.
- The purpose of a healthcare facility is to provide care to their patients. Many will attempt to provide some spiritual support through approved Chaplains, some who are staff personnel connected with the facility.
- Unless you are on staff with the facility, you are a visitor. For hospitals in particular, this means being in compliance with the rules and regulations for visitors. Visiting ministry personnel must often be requested or placed on a visitors list by the patient, or be cleared by the facility Chaplain to visit.
- The privacy and the security of the patients is closely guarded by the facility, and may mean additional screening of visitors, to include ministry personnel.
- The health of all patients may require additional measures to visit the patient, such as universal precautions of wearing mask, gowns, gloves, and strict hand washing. In some cases, you may not be able to bring your Bible into the room.
Strategies For Conducting Hospital Ministry:
- The best opportunity to get access to a hospital environment is to be invited by a current inpatient, or the family of an inpatient. Some hospitals may require that you be placed on a list of visitors. Make it clear that you are coming to provide spiritual support to that patient. Once you are there, introduce yourself to the staff coming into the room, and at the Nurses Desk, normally located at the entrance of the ward. If you have a card that gives your contact number, leave one (with the permission of the patient and/or family) at the front desk, offering to be available if needed for that patient. The more often you are seen, and speak with the staff, the more they will be comfortable with your presence.
- For a wider access to other patients, try to get an appointment to speak with the staff chaplain and/or administrator. The staff chaplain is the most important person to speak with, since he or she is primarily responsible for the liaison with outside ministries and churches. Remember that both persons may be very busy, so be patient and professional in your efforts. Let them know that you need ten minutes, and your purpose is to inform them of your activities in their facility. Once you have secured time with the staff chaplain, briefly explain that you are interested in expanding your experience in providing spiritual support to the inpatients, and request information on any training or mentoring opportunities he or she may have. Offer to assist the staff chaplain in any way needed, and let he or she know your availability. Make sure to tell them about any previous experience you have had, and your education that has prepared you for this ministry field.
- Contact other churches in the area, and offer to perform visits for their members that are in the hospital. It is more effective if you take the time to visit that church and speak to the Pastoral staff. Most churches are overwhelmed with many duties, so an offer to help is gladly accepted. Remember that until you are not viewed as an outsider, there may be some resistance to this idea. Offer to accompany their staff – Pastor, Deacon, etc..- the next time they make a visit to a hospitalized member so you can learn how they conduct their visits.
- Speak to people you know that have been hospitalized and gain their perspective about the experience. What did they want to see or experience when a visitor came there? What was their most enjoyable experience when visitors came? What was not good? The more you understand about the visit from the patient’s point of view increased your effectiveness as a hospital ministry worker. Remember, you are a visitor tasked to carry the joy of the Lord into their environment. Bring the Bible if you can, but carry the gospel in your heart and through your voice. They need most to see the love, and know that you care about them and so does Jesus.
What to Do:
- Enter the facility with the attitude of being a good visitor, following the rules as stated, and coming to serve the patient spiritually as the opportunity opens.
- Be understanding and respectful of the hospital staff as they move through their duties. They must do their jobs at the times required. That means that you may need to be patient.
- Keep a positive attitude – that means a smile. You are being observed by many that are hurting. Your presence can make their ordeal and concern more bearable.
- Look for opportunities to speak with those that are waiting in the near vicinity and provide a loving support to them. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you to those who need to hear a soothing word.
- Conduct yourself in a professional and understated manner. You are not there to verbally preach a message, but to give a message through your actions of love. Remember that this is a time when others are more important than you are.
- Give. Time, attention, a listening ear, concern, hope, and Love. You are giving to the Lord in your service to the sick.
- Keep the door open to return. The patient, staff, visitors should all be edified by your visit. It only takes a genuine desire to bless others to have them feel and know that you came because Jesus Loves them.
What not to Do:
- Enter the facility with an air of entitlement or giving the impression that you are in control. You are an ambassador for the Lord, and have not title but “Servant”
- Display irritation or disrespect for other around you, especially not the hospital staff.
- Bring excessive graveness into the room where the patients are. It may be a serious condition, but they probably know that. You should be the quiet but confident beacon of hope pointing to the Lord.
- Be intrusive when conversing with the other visitors. If asked, let them know that you are a minister, but it is not an opportunity to add to your church or ministry. If they ask about your church or ministry, it is all right to briefly inform them about it.
- Be gruff, short, or combative in your approach. Again, you are an ambassador.
For those interested in becoming involved in getting deeper into the area of Healthcare Chaplains, I would suggest researching the Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association. Their website is www.hcmachaplains.org There is an established training program and requirements leading to certification as a healthcare chaplain. They do require a degree from an accredited college or theological school and several years of pastoral care ministry experience to qualify for this certification.
Many hospital staff chaplains are affiliated with the HCMA or a similar organization. In the hospital, the staff chaplain is tasked with coordinating liaison and general visits from clergy and ministries in the local area. So if you are interested in helping the staff chaplain in providing spiritual support to the general patient population, you will need to call or write to them and describe your desire.
This may be another way to get into the facility, and provide support. Volunteers are needed in many capacities in hospitals; from providing information to visitors coming in, to making books available to patients in the rooms ( or reading to those who are unable to see well enough to read themselves). All is ministry.
Nursing Home Ministry
With the restrictive measures placed on hospitals, performing ministry in a nursing home environment may be easier. Most nursing home patients are in need of daily care, and are dependent of such care for daily activities. Some will improve and be allowed to go home, these are admitted for rehabilitation. Others have reached a point in their illness that they are not expected to live. You will experience some patients who have not had a visit from their family in some time. The ministry opportunity is large in this environment.
- Security for nursing homes will range from that equal to the hospital facilities to almost nonexistent. Staff are normally more taxed than hospital staff, and may be slightly curt.
- Patients may have seen their lifestyles change dramatically as a result of their admission into the nursing home. You are now walking into their home. Be aware that they may initially resent your presence and be suspicious of your motives.
- Nursing homes are usually managed by Administrators. They may operate in accordance to several layers of regulation, including city, county, state and federal. Since inspectors may enter the facilities at any time to assess their operations, the staff may be sensitive in this time of fiscal austerity.
Strategies for Conducting Nursing Home Ministry
- Secure an appointment with the Nursing Home Administrator to inform him or her about your desire to visit the patients in the facility. Ask about other churches or groups that currently visit so you can arrange your time their without interfering. Also meet with the facility activities coordinator to get a calendar of events so you do not visit when there is a conflicting event occurring. They will also be able to advise you of meal times, bed time hours, and other significant events.
- After getting clearance with the Nursing Home Administrator to perform visits, speak to the Head Nurse or Nursing Supervisor to let them know about your visits. If you have a card, leave it at the Nursing Desk so that the staff will know who you are. Ask about the needs of patients in the facility. Nursing staff can tell you when patients are in a critical need (impending death), when families have not visited, or when a patient is in a certain mood. They are your best friends. Touch base with them each time you come in, and get to know them well.
What to Do:
The guidelines stated for the hospital visits apply. In addition:
- Remember to be very polite and respectful to the patients.
- Knock before entering their room. You are asking permission to come into their house
- Treat them as you would a member of your family. Some have not seen their own families in a while. Showing the love that Jesus would show them is a requirement.
- Listen, listen, listen. They have a story to tell. Their life has not been in vain.
What Not to Do:
The guidelines stated for the hospital visits apply. In addition:
- Wander through the facility conducting random visits. Better to focus on two or three patients per visit. It will be tempting to do so as your heart is drawn to the faces of those in need. Let the Holy Spirit direct you strongly.
- Visit when you are tired, or distracted with other concerns. Nursing home patients know quickly when you are just “going through the motions”. If it is not real for you, don’t go.
Assisted Living Facilities
Similar to Nursing Home Facilities, they are distinguished by the fact that most of the residents (not patients) are able to function on their own with some assistance needed.
The information related to Nursing Homes apply, but you will have to get permission from the Administrator or Manager, and the residents themselves. In this environment, you will be visiting a facility that is more similar to an apartment complex.
- Speak to the Assisted Living Administrator and inform them of your desire to provide visits to their residents, and try to find the names of other churches or ministries currently doing so.
- These facilities will normally have a staff recreation or events coordinator. It is especially important to work closely with them to avoid interfering with the scheduled activities.
- Leave your card with both the Administrator and the events coordinator. As you increase your contacts with the residents, they may ask you to visit certain residents or to speak with their families.
- If you feel comfortable, consider conducting a service or bible study for the residents in the common areas. If you know of other churches or ministries working in the facility, you might consider coordinating a gospel music event for the residents.
Those are the areas of Healthcare Ministries I see as most accessible to our NACM members. There are other areas, such as Hospice, which clearly would require more preparation and investment of time. Support for caretakers of patients needing home care is another area, in which the member would be tending to the family support team/caretakers for patients will disabilities, chronic illness, etc. Again, the preparation and time investment would be quite large.
My suggestion would be for NACM members to consider Nursing Home Ministry first, gaining experience through “on the job training”, sharing their experiences with other members involved in that work. We could then post their experiences as a continuous training, sharing the “best practices” and seeking the advice of other members to deal with challenges.
This information could serve as a foundation for an initial training for those desiring to begin conducting Healthcare Ministry. The regional differences, the growth of hospital and healthcare chains have complicated the potential for giving a concrete “this is what you have to do”. Anyone desiring to move into this area should remember:
- The patient always has the final choice. We should never attempt to push past that fact, even when we know that we have something that they need.
- Healthcare facilities are in business. Litigation and fines for not meeting regulations are a serious issue for them.
- Security of the patients versus the rights of the patient is a continual shifting concern. Visitors can be seen as potential risks as they contact the patients in their facility.
- Requirements change, often based on the perceptions of society, events that get the attention of the news media, and the availability of finances to operate the facilities. Look for the changes, and stay abreast of how that will affect your opportunity to provide ministry support.