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Chaplains take on new role of caring for the caregivers during coronavirus

Nursing home caregivers say they are scared of becoming infected with the coronavirus and then transmitting it to their children.

Food pantry volunteers are wracked with guilt when shelves go bare and someone walks away hungry.

Healthcare workers say the toughest part of their day is after their shift because at home, no one gets what they are going through.

The counselors, chaplains and social workers who have ministered to local caregivers during nearly six months of working during the coronavirus pandemic have heard them expound on the fears, the exhaustion, the stress and even the anger.

But those applying healing balm to the mental state of frontline workers — whether they’re in hospitals, nursing facilities, nonprofits or grocery stores — don’t mind the heavy listening because that has become a key aspect of their work in a once-obscure profession surging in importance.

“As a chaplain, I am an ear to listen,” said Pastor Sylvia Lee Mann of Bethel Congregational Church in Ontario.

Mann, 65, volunteered to be a chaplain to the D’Andre Lampkin Foundation after the nonprofit last December landscaped the front of her 1912 stone church that faces historic Euclid Avenue.

Simply put, she felt God calling her to give back to the community.

“We are there as a compassionate presence,” she said of herself and other clergy from synagogues and mosques she calls on for those of Jewish and Muslim faiths, respectively. “We act as counselors or guides for some of the spiritual needs of their volunteers and workers,” she said on Monday, Aug. 3.

The Foundation and its 192 volunteers hand out food baskets for those unemployed due to the recent shutdowns and to the more vulnerable population sheltering at home who don’t go to stores for fear of being exposed. Also, Lampkin operates a temp agency supplying healthcare workers to fill in gaps at medical facilities.

The idea of a chaplain at a nonprofit is unusual. But CEO and President D’Andre Lampkin said the need to uplift both volunteers and temp-nurses after stressful work days became apparent in early July.

“We’ve never had a chaplain in our nonprofit but it is vastly needed,” he said Tuesday, Aug. 4. He’s spoken with his healthcare workers after they’ve come back from a job. “Many do not want to go home. They are too afraid of infecting someone in their household,” he said.

Mann is just beginning to hold Zoom and phone counseling sessions and has done counseling from word-of-mouth referrals. Lampkin is clearing out a large conference room at the foundation’s offices near the Ontario Convention Center to allow up to two people in a room, face-coverings required, for in-person counseling. The temperature of every person entering the building is checked, he said.

“It is a very holistic thing. It is dealing with the whole person, the helpers, the healthcare heroes and our volunteers as well,” he said.

Nina Paul, 65, worked as a chaplain at Brookdale Hospice in Placentia for 13 years before retiring this week. The Rancho Cucamonga resident is moving her family to the Midwest.

She has counseled staff during the pandemic who are working longer hours while taking on new duties. Because visitors are not allowed, they are the intermediary between the patient and loved ones.

The stress build up causes spiritual distress, which emerges as hopelessness, meaninglessness, guilt and fear, Paul said.

“I am dealing with a lot of people who are terrified. They ask ‘If I get it am I going to die or bring it home to my grandmother or my children,’” Paul said.

Mann said many healthcare workers and other volunteers need to readjust their thinking caused by a busy brain to a centered, present, calmness.

She has them touch objects in the room: a wall, a couch, a table. Then, they practice breathing and finally, body awareness. “If we can focus on the present time, usually we can be much more effective later on, even if later on you’re running around crazy on an ICU floor, you can stop and say ‘I am here. I am present,’” Mann said.

Paul estimated that 80% of her counseling time is spent listening and 20% offering words of comfort. “In that reassurance, I try to help them find their own inner wisdom, to emphasize what they are doing right,” she said.

Sometimes the temporary healthcare workers are not as used to seeing a patient die as more experienced nurses, Mann said. They often absorb the grief and anger of family members.

“I say is there anything you could’ve done that you didn’t do? The answer is no,” Mann said. “Sometimes they simply need to say to God please help me. And if they are open to praying, I will help them with that.

“Or sometimes I just let them cry,” Mann said.

Mann has been pastor of the Ontario church since 2013 and is an ordained United Church of Christ minister. Previously, she worked as a music director at a church in Studio City.

She uses her full arsenal of skills when counseling, from behavioral therapy to stories from the Bible. She doesn’t shy away from the spiritual aspects as along as those being counseled don’t object.

Compassion fatigue is becoming real with frontline workers, explained Lawrence Palinkas, professor at the USC school of social work who studies the psychological effects of disasters.

“Because they are on the front lines they are under a great deal of stress,” he said. “There are different factors, from anxiety to feelings of exhaustion, given that the number of cases are climbing again,” he said.

On June 20, the state reported 3,500 new cases each day but by July 4, that had increased to about 6,000, and to 9,800 by July 12. California’s seven-day average of new cases hit its lowest point in three weeks on Monday, Aug. 4 but daily deaths reached a new high, according to an analysis by The Mercury News, a sister newspaper.

“I’ve had healthcare providers talk about how family members are not allowed to be at the bedside of dying patients, so having to communicate to a family member that someone has died has been very depressing for a lot of healthcare providers,” Palinkas said.

He is working on a project interviewing food distribution workers in New Orleans. The need for not just food but housing has put them in a squeeze between demand and supply. “The larger that gap, the more stress these community-based organizations are experiencing,” Palinkas said.

At San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, Linda Richardson, hospital chaplain, is part of a three-person team that includes Beth Grant, licensed clinical social worker, and Jennifer Liddell, wellness coordinator.

With few visitors in the hospital due to COVID-19 protocols, the team can focus on the staff, who check in and share experiences in a safe, supportive environment, Richardson said.

“These interactions and connections help to build strength and resiliency,” she wrote in an email.

Corporate and community-based expressions of thanks can lift the caregivers spirits, Palinkas said. “Rewarding them is one of the most important priorities the public can exercise,” he said.

Mann wants to do her part by imparting words of encouragement and being a sounding board. She’s taken on the role in addition to her duties at her church.

“Part of my calling as a pastor is to preach, teach, pray and counsel. I am following my calling and fulfilling my vows. I have to,” she said.

Source: Orange County Register

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