Episcopal Chaplains serve CNY during COVID-19 pandemic

Editor’s note: Thanks to our Episcopal chaplains serving CNY health care facilities, and to the Rev. Kate Day for gathering their words for this piece.

Four Episcopalians are serving in professional healthcare chaplaincy roles during the current pandemic: the Rev. Perry Mouncey, Deacon Chuck Stewart, Kathryn Bell, and the Rev. Kate Day. Here are some chaplain voices from the bedside. (The Rev. Perry Mouncey, Chaplain Intern at Upstate, feels that the others speak to her experience, as well.)

The Rev. Kate Day, Managing Chaplain, Crouse Health, Syracuse:

The Rev. Kate Day, Managing Chaplain for Crouse Health in Syracuse, prepares for Ash Wednesday 2022 in the hospital chapel.

The pandemic swooped in on us, shattering our well-established routines for taking care of patients, in March 2020. We’ve been on a wild ride ever since, flexing with the dozens of changes in how we do our work. In the chaos, one thing has become more and more urgent: supporting staff who are beyond weary. In fact many staff in all areas of the hospital have simply left: retiring, leaving for more pay elsewhere, leaving the field, leaving due to vaccination requirements. Many more staff have suffered difficult losses in their own families due to COVID-19, and at least one staff member has died due to COVID, and others due to other causes. The turnover in staff has created its own stress, because there are not enough applicants to fill all the open positions. Yet a constant stream of patients coming in the doors—beyond the COVID patients—requires more staff than we have. We have even had our own major staff turnover in Spiritual Care in 2021, losing four part-time chaplains. Today, the COVID numbers are in retreat in the community, and to a lesser degree within the hospital. For those of us who are chaplains, we have found that our own faith practices have been the key to staying well in body, mind, and spirit.

…Our own faith practices have been the key to staying well in body, mind, and spirit.

Deacon Chuck Stewart, Assistant Chaplain, Upstate Hospital:

The Rev. Chuck Stewart, deacon, serves Syracuse’s Upstate Hospital as a volunteer chaplain. Here he is prepared for Ash Wednesday 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Upstate, volunteer assistant chaplains, who were out of the building for thirteen weeks in the spring of 2020, continued to provide spiritual care to patients and families by phone. This was a particularly difficult time for families since visitation was suspended. Later, when family visits were allowed, they were quite limited. COVID patients could have no visitors except at the end of life. Volunteer chaplains weren’t allowed in COVID rooms; many prayers were said through the glass doors. Nurses and other staff are exhausted; lack of staff has reduced the available beds by more than ten percent. Among the worst are middle-aged patients and patients who are fully vaccinated dying from this terrible virus. We pray it will be over this year.

We pray it will be over this year.

Kathryn F. Bell, Chaplain, Loretto Health and Rehabilitation Center:

On the one hand I care for immediate and critical needs of all patients, family, and staff—of any faith and none. In addition, I lead worship and activities directed toward their ongoing lives in established community. When COVID hit, our gatherings were cancelled, and our communal lives were disrupted. People we had known and loved for years were whisked away to hospital or quarantine, and residents and staff could only rely on the grapevine for information on who lived, who died, and who might come back. There were no gatherings to grieve, or even to maintain connections. Conflicting information and mandates laid an additional level of stress to an already under-funded and overwhelmed staff. Spiritual Care and the whole staff had to create innovative strategies and technologies to keep human contact and support in the lives of workers and residents alike. Constant changes have tired us. Losses have stretched us. We will come out of this stronger, with more tools and abilities for future service. But the costs have been so high. And the work to build a new community under new realities will be with us for a long time yet. And I thank God who can “Revive Us Again” and again and again!

We will come out of this stronger, with more tools and abilities for future service. But the costs have been so high.

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