by Sue Conrad Howes, West Swamp (Quakertown, PA) congregation
Hospital visitation is an important part of pastoral care. However, hospital life, like so many other things, is not business as usual these days.
As a hospital chaplain, I have been asked a lot about hospital visitation. Here are my thoughts regarding caring for your hospitalized congregants during COVID-19.
Each hospital is implementing different visitation policies. Most hospitals are restricting visitors in some capacity. Some are allowing only immediate family. Some are allowing only one visitor at a time. Some are still not allowing visitors (or it depends on what unit the patient is in.)
Be sure to call the hospital to get the specifics before going. Not only are visitor restrictions in place at most hospitals, many have adjusted visiting hours and visitor entrances. Because most hospitals are requiring you to register and get your temperature taken, hospitals have designated only certain entrances for visitors.
If you are unable or uncomfortable with an in-person visit, phone calls are very welcomed. Check if the patient has a cell phone with them. If not, typically the nurse can get access to a landline in the patient’s room. (Call the hospital and ask for the nurse’s station for that patient.)
If the patient has a cell phone, facetime might be appropriate. Again, medical staff are typically very accommodating during this time in assisting patients to use technology to connect with others.
Of course, cards can be a great option. Drop them off at the front desk of a hospital if you live nearby and it will be delivered to the patient. You can mail it, but that takes longer and the patient may not be in hospital for long. Cards, balloons, or plants fill a hospital room nicely for a patient and are a constant reminder of your love and support.
Remember, patients don’t need long visits or phone calls. Most patients just need about 5 minutes to check on them and then to offer prayer. They need rest.
If you don’t feel capable of visiting the hospital, but feel like the patient would benefit from a pastoral care visit, call the hospital and request to speak to pastoral care or a chaplain. You can put a request in to the pastoral care office and a chaplain on-site will go visit your patient. If you leave your name and contact information, most chaplains will even let the patient know that you were the one who requested the visit. If you are very concerned about the patient, as they may not have any family visiting, you can even kindly ask the chaplain to give you a call back after the visit for an update, if the patient gives permission.
While an in-person visit can be valuable, check in with the family of the patient, if you are able. They perhaps could also use support, as having a loved one in the hospital right now is stressful. A regular check-in with the family might be where pastoral care is most needed.
Hospital visits, like almost everything else, have changed since March. Hospital patients need to be especially protected from viruses and other germs, but they also need prayer, support, and love. Use your best judgement when considering a hospital visit, and be sure to stay at least 6 feet away from the patient, even if you have a mask on. We want to do our best to ensure the safety and well being of all.