A spiritual lens

Donna Chapman

April 27, 2021

Providing spiritual care during the pandemic

“Spiritual care is rooted in connection. People may be connected to an organized religion that provides a sense of meaning, a community that gives them purpose, or family and friends who give them love,” says Donna Chapman, when discussing her work as a spiritual care practitioner at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). “These connections are often strained when a person becomes ill, and this has been especially true during the pandemic.”

Chapman is one of three spiritual care practitioners at LHSC who care for patients and families by supporting all aspects of their spirituality.

“Spirituality is often associated with religion, but it goes beyond that. Spiritual care focuses on what’s important to a patient whether or not that includes organized religion,” explains Tammy Fisher, Manager of Social Work and Spiritual Care at LHSC.

Spiritual care practitioners support patients through their care journey, providing a safe space to engage in reflective conversations, which can be particularly important for patients who are palliative. When first meeting a patient, spiritual care practitioners perform a HOPE assessment to measure sources of meaning, strength, and community, and how these might be affected by the patient’s diagnosis or prognosis.

“The goal is to support a patient’s spirituality through a holistic lens. Our practitioners provide patient counselling for existential or spiritual questions, complicated family dynamics, pain and symptom management, and much more,” says Fisher. “They also liaise with community spiritual supports like clergy members and they support families with spiritual bereavement care.”

In Chapman’s experience, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it particularly difficult for patients to engage in spiritual practices or activities that give them a sense of purpose.

“During the pandemic, patients may not be able to see their children or grandchildren; book clubs or euchre games may be cancelled; and religious services are affected – all of which may contribute to someone’s spirituality or sense of meaning in life,” explains Chapman. “It has been especially hard for patients admitted to hospital when visitor restrictions are in effect.”

Chapman and her colleagues have adapted their practices in response to the pandemic, providing more supportive emotional care to patients and helping them to connect virtually with family.

“We don’t take the place of family and friends by any means, but we offer listening ears and a hand to hold,” notes Chapman.

The pandemic has created unique challenges for patients who are religious, particularly those who are palliative. The Spiritual Care team has been creative in helping patients connect with their faith leaders.

“We normally have on-call faith leaders who support patients at end-of-life, but they sometimes can’t come in due to visitor restrictions,” says Chapman. “We’ve been trying to support patients of all religions and denominations through prayer and, where possible, virtual connection to their faith leaders.”

Chapman and her colleagues have also played a vital role in caring for patients with COVID-19.

“I’ve supported COVID-19 patients who have requested prayer,” adds Chapman. “It’s so important to some that they have a connection to a higher power during difficult medical situations.”

The team has also been crucial in supporting LHSC staff members during the pandemic. Through LHSC’s Where Wellness Works program, spiritual care practitioners are part of a larger team who provide peer support to staff feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or scared.

“The pandemic has definitely been challenging for our colleagues,” notes Chapman. “Sometimes staff just need to talk about the challenges and uncertainties.”

As the pandemic continues, spiritual care practitioners are providing meaningful care.

“Spiritual care practitioners are valued members of our interdisciplinary teams. They’ve stepped up to fill a gap during the pandemic, creatively supporting patients from a spiritual lens,” says Fisher.

“We deal with death and dying, but we also deal with hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation,” adds Chapman. “If you have ears to listen, people want to talk. We’re actively listening to patients and supporting them as best we can.”