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How do you replenish and nourish your spirit in these unheard-of times when extreme stress is the norm?

At one hospital network located in the pandemic’s epicenter, you could nourish the spirit by accessing a brief podcast or video, or spending a few moments in a quiet room.  At another hospital, you might search for meaning by consulting with a spiritual director.

“The COVID-19 crisis represents a real departure in terms of the emotional and spiritual stress on frontline personnel, especially nurses,” says Reverend David Cotton, Regional Director of Spiritual Care Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, a multihospital system serving New Jersey. Just as the system provides PPE, Reverend Cotton notes, health care providers’ emotional and spiritual needs must be cared for – “PPE for their spirit,” he says.

Hackensack’s new Spiritual Care Program provides guidance and support in areas such as grief; fear; hope; faith and inner peace; and meditation, gratitude, and purpose. Health care providers can access various resources including brief videos and podcasts hosted by clergy; inspirational writing; an email to make prayer requests; and a quiet room in each hospital.  Professionals who are involved with the program include hospital chaplains, community clergy, and members of integrative and behavioral health teams.

Addressing Grief and Fear

The quiet room at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune City, NJ,  part of Hackensack Meridian Health

Videos and podcasts on fear and grief, says Rev. Cotton, are among the most highly used resources by frontline staff. “Grief because they’re dealing with a whole new level of grief in the traditional sense, but also grief in the sense of loss. We’ve lost our rhythm of life. They’ve lost the way they usually do business as a nurse for 10 years or 20 years or two years. Nursing is different these days.” And fear because, for one thing, nurses may fear that they will take the virus home to their families.

Also popular are quiet rooms in each hospital, which have low lighting and soft music. “Those quiet, meditative prayer spaces are a great stress reducer and reliever,” he says. Visitors to the spaces can read scripture, pick up a religious article, or write a prayer request on a note, which chaplains will then pray over.

Spiritual Search

At Bridgeport Hospital, Bridgeport, Connecticut, a hospital of Yale New Haven Health, nurses can access a program to help them deepen their spiritual sense through the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality of Fairfield University. They can take advantage of four free therapy sessions from the hospital, but then can access a spiritual director from the Murphy Center, available at no charge, according to Marcy Haley, Assistant Director at Murphy Center. No prior religious experience or background is needed. This program may extend to other hospitals that have a relationship with the Murphy Center, notes Haley.

In addition, the Center is working with Fairfield University’s Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies to develop a class on spirituality and palliative care, as well as offering pastoral support for all undergraduate and graduate nursing students, many of whom are working on the front lines.

Trauma, says Haley, has “a way of humbling all of us, and how we put those pieces back together is a spiritual journey as much as it is a physical and emotional journey.”

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