Hospital chaplain speaks about ministry during COVID-19

Coronavirus Watch

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — Now that visitors aren’t allowed inside hospitals, staff at St. Vincent in Evansville say patients have been calling upon chaplains even more.

“Sometimes you feel like you have one hand tied behind your back. They can’t see you because we wear a mask all the time,” said Rob Tonkin, chaplain at St. Vincent. “Not being able to hold someone’s hand is very different.”

Due to contact and visitor restrictions, chaplains have had to change the way they do their ministry.

“A big part is now without family members coming in, we have tried not to abandon any part of our ministry. Now I’m able to go visit a patient and then sometimes I’m also then calling their spouse or their child to check on them,” said Tonkin.

According to Tonkin, in-person visits aren’t always possible, even for chaplains.

“There are now rooms that I’m not able to go in because they’re on contact precautions so sometimes we’re actually in our office calling patients in their rooms,” said Tonkin.

It’s not just the patients that need support. The hospital has now turned a consultation room into a prayer center for staff. Chaplains have also started making bereavement calls to family members whose loved ones have passed away knowing they aren’t able to get the typical support from community due to the coronavirus pandemic and limits to in-person gatherings.

“I know we have different nurses that are praying with the patients. We had a COVID-positive patient who was end of life and the overnight nurse, being one of the only people who could go in the room, basically spent as much time as she could with him overnight until he passed the next morning,” said Tonkin. “I think you see a lot more openness kind of, not only from the patients but from the staff as well of looking to their faith for support.” 

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — Now that visitors aren’t allowed inside hospitals, staff at St. Vincent in Evansville say patients have been calling upon chaplains even more.

St. Vincent has 6 chaplains that provide comfort to patients, family members and staff but due to COVID-19 they’ve had to change their ministry practices. Some patients can’t have chaplains inside their rooms due to contact restrictions, so chaplains have started conducting ministry through their phones. In some case, nurses allowed inside the rooms have been praying with patients since they can’t have any other visitors.

One chaplain tells Eyewitness News the hospital has also started making bereavement calls to follow up with family members of patients who pass way since they can’t be together in person.

“A family member was waiting with someone while their spouse was having surgery and it was a pretty serious one and they were pretty upset and I think we traded off chaplains across three different shifts to comfort that family member, which is longer than we probably would normally have to,” said St. Vincent Chaplain Rob Tonkin.

In addition to the chapel, the hospital has also turned what’s normally a patient consultation room into a prayer space for hospital staff to use.

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(This story was originally published on April 20, 2020)

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