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October 31, 2006 > Pastoral Care Week is in the Spirit of Healing

Pastoral Care Week is in the Spirit of Healing

by Washington Hospital

When a person has an illness or injury, a spiritual as well as physical healing needs to occur. Pastoral Care Week, observed the last week in October, recognizes the importance of spiritual caregivers in the hospital setting who are available to assist patients and families with their spiritual needs while they are in the hospital.

“Primarily, what I do is supportive care,” explains Father Jeff Finley, Spiritual Care Coordinator at Washington Hospital. “I talk to the worried family who is waiting for someone in surgery, or to a dying patient, or to a person who received a critical diagnosis and needs someone to listen.”

Father Finley, an ordained Catholic priest, and 12 volunteer chaplains represent many faiths and denominations, and all are prepared to counsel the spiritual needs of the culturally diverse community. “People are people, and we are all pretty much the same,” Finley says. “We hurt and we heal, regardless of denomination.”

When a patient is admitted to Washington Hospital, he or she is asked if they are interested in receiving spiritual care. If a patient is comfortable with the idea, then the hospital chaplain will pay a visit and become part of the patient’s support system in the hospital.

“More and more, health professionals are realizing that medical and spiritual healing go hand-in-hand,” Finley says. “Hospitals need to be multidisciplinary. It’s a team. A doctor, a nurse, a spiritual counselor — we care for the whole person and the spirit is a part of that person.”

Father Finley says he also has a visible yet low-key presence in departments such as the Intensive Care Unit, the Coronary Care Unit and the Emergency Room. He is available if someone wants to talk in these critical care environments. He also says he makes contact with patients through referrals and word of mouth from people he has helped in the past.

Father Finley is a firm believer in patients’ rights and ensuring patients receive what they need at the time of critical health decisions. He strongly believes in healthcare directives for a patient who is unable to speak due to severe illness or injury, and whose family is left to make serious decisions on that person’s behalf. He says everyone over the age of 18 should have a durable power of attorney document for medical decisions.

“This is a document that says ‘this is what I want to happen to me if I can’t speak for myself.’ Don’t ask your family to make that decision,” Finley emphasizes.

Father Finley says, “no one knows how old they will be when they’re going to die.” He has seen patients of all ages come in unable to make their own medical decisions, and with no directives, their families are left with making life and death decisions.

“It is so hard for family members to make that decision. If you tell them what you want, then they don’t have to feel guilty later about the choices they made. I feel this is part of respecting the wholeness of the patient,” Finley says, underscoring that with a legal document, it prevents anyone from challenging the wishes of the patient.

Patients and their loved ones are not the only people Father Finley works with at Washington Hospital. He considers himself the pastor to all the hospital staff and volunteers who have to spiritually process their hospital experiences and who may need guidance and support to handle the day-to-day hospital environment.

“The hospital is my church. It doesn’t matter what faith or denomination you are,” Finley says.

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