The headline say, "Hospitals expanding duties of Chaplains" and the very article explains the increasing involvement of Chaplains in the care of patients in large Boston Hospitals. Staff have noted and documented how much of a positive effect a Chaplain can have, especially in the care of the terminally ill or with families making end of life decisions. ARTICLE HERE
There is nothing new here as far as "duties" go. Clergy have been serving people with their presence, prayers (and Sacraments) and counsel for ages. What is new, the "expanded" part of the headline is the intentional use of Chaplains by Hospital Staff. Many more are being hired by the Hospitals in the survey and deliberately used by the Staff as their eyes and ears to determine patient treatment. The Chaplains are increasingly considered to be a part of the Team delivering medical care. That is new and is a welcome change. They apparently join doctors on their rounds and in the operating room and at meetings to make treatment Plans- all as Chaplains. Patients are are increasingly requesting this Service.
I remember an experiment with this arrangement 35 years ago in a local hospital near a church I pastored. It fell apart, due mostly to scheduling problems and problems with communication as various members of the Team came and went on their business, apart from the other members. In other words, it was not practical. An additional problem was that not all the doctors agreed to the need. We agreed in theory about a holistic approach to patient care, but some doctors (nurses and other hospital staff) did not really buy into it and in practice, there was no time for it.
Apparently, attitudes have changed on the part of at least some hospitals and staff (I am skeptical about this or about the motives behind it). My experience was as a Pastor. Most of us have had clinical training in Seminary, but still we were Pastors, not Chaplains. This new expanded role is really suited to the latter, who are employed by a Hospital and who are actually "on duty" at the Hospital and not simply on call in a Parish somewhere, perhaps many miles away.
This leads to my main concern. These Hospital Chaplains are not the patient's Pastor. It is the latter who should be the primary "spiritual" care giver, not a Hospital employee. But for that to work, Pastors and Parishoners need to be "close" and working out life and death issues before a crisis arises or at least at the beginning stages of serious medical treatment.
In addition, Chaplains come from a variety of Religious Traditions, from Unitarian to evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic to Muslim. The Hospital assumption seems to be that they are interchangeable in providing comfort and counsel on end of life issues and decisions. Chaplains have all received basic training in appropriate counseling, as well as in legal issues so they can provide a helpful service. However, my conviction and concern, in ministering to seriously ill or dying persons is to prepare them to meet God as best as possible. That begins with seeking assurance of Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The temptation is to say words that will comfort the patient without regard to their true relationship with God. If the person is alienated from God, comforting words to them are superficial. The only real and true comfort comes from assurance that one is going to be with the Lord because they are trusting in Him for Eternal Life. That is my first concern for everyone and particularly for a patient facing the end of life on earth. That is what I would want to talk with them and their family about, but that is not what the Hospital Chaplain is free or, in many cases, able, to do. No one is really prepared for a "good death" without that assurance.