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VOL. 123 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 13, 2008

Le Bonheur Grows Chaplain Staff

By Tom Wilemon

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Corey Johnson

Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center has doubled its chaplain staff and expanded training so hospital workers can be more sensitive and responsive to families in stress.

The Rev. Corey Johnson leads those efforts as the hospital’s director of spiritual care, a newly created position.

“The reality is we’re connecting with families at the most vulnerable time, when some traumatic, episodic experience is going on – no matter if is something that we might consider minor, such as breaking a bone, or maybe it is some life altering decision,” Johnson said. “That’s a time when a family is in flux.”

The hospital had only two chaplains before it added two more in September, he said. The four chaplains report to Johnson.

“What we ended up doing previously was just being on the front lines and being present with the needs of our patients,” he said. “But two people trying to cover a 225-bed hospital, some 5,000 emergency department cases a month, was impossible. We are really still growing this program to where we can get even more competent chaplain staff. Ideally, I’d love to have seven people.”

God’s work

Johnson’s goal is to have a bigger staff to provide guidance to all who need it within the hospital setting as well as assist in community outreach efforts by the time Le Bonheur’s new hospital opens in 2010.

He set up a Crisis Prevention Institute that trained 16 employees on how to identify stress situations within families and respond to them. Those employees are certified to advise other hospital staff. The training focused heavily on identifying body language as well as being aware of personal actions.

“Along the same line, we have to be able to process our own experience,” Johnson said. “How does that situation affect us? And if it is moving us, what’s going on with us? What are we saying? What are we doing? How are we talking? What is our cadence? What is our tone? What the education goal is around our associates is recognition that you have to manage your life as well as recognize the traumatic, episodic challenge of that family coming in with that child.”

Dealing directly with children can present special challenges. Most hospitals have staff chaplains, but the ones at Le Bonheur and the four on staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital must be able to relate to children.

“I think it really is contextual,” Johnson said. “It depends on what is going on with this child. You will find in these events the teenager who is not very talkative and then a teenager who is very garrulous. . . . You do a whole lot of empathetic listening, reflective listening, a lot of conversation and a lot of time letting the child be the unique person that they are in that time of conversation.”

Hospital chaplains have to be able to provide guidance that is not tied to a single religious denomination. St. Jude is not affiliated with any religion. Although Le Bonheur is part of the Methodist Healthcare system, its chaplains are ordained by other denominations, Johnson said.

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