Faith Based Counseling At Hospitals

Apr 2, 2020

When you think of hospital staffs, you think of doctors and nurses. You might also think of cleaning personnel and food services.

During this time of crisis, another service of hospitals is important to many patients and their loved ones: religious counseling.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with Steve Sutterer, supervisor of pastoral care at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.


SCOTT POHL: I'd like you to take me back to the days before the COVID-19 pandemic, what was a typical day like for someone who provides pastoral care at Sparrow hospital?

STEVE SUTTERER: The basics are sort of set like this: when we come into the office, we're going to check our logbook of information from the night on-call chaplains, we’ll check for any referrals that are online in a computer. We're going to work on a list of those we need to see and knowing that when we are on call, we could be interrupted by traumas and all kinds of other things of crisis that might be happening. Some of those referrals usually will involve making sure a Catholic patient was on the list for daily eucharistic ministers and the Catholic volunteers who bring communion to other Catholics. We might have a couple interdisciplinary meetings today. We try and eat lunch together, and one of us takes the on-call pager, who responds to the ER and all the crisis in the organization, usually in the main hospital.

POHL: Now that we have COVID-19 patients in Ingham County, what's the same and what's different for people who do your kind of work?

SUTTERER: We're still going to come in, we check our logbook, we look for information for the day. One of the basic differences though coming in today is we're going to have a health screening. We come in the door to the hospital, we're going to get a mask put on us. They're going to take our temperature and ask us some questions about how we're feeling. And sometimes, though, now, some of those referrals will not be in a patient room due to the nature of the illness, whether it be a potential virus rule-out or somebody who might have the virus, but we'll then make sure we're looking at contacts for family, and we're calling them and having discussions with them on the phone.

These days, we don't eat lunch together, we're going to eat lunch separately. We do discuss things daily with one another, usually keeping that six foot distance even in our offices. So, we're still trying to provide that focused emotional and spiritual aspect of care for our patients, our loved ones and our staff, and we still provide support for people of any, or no, religion.

The other difference currently is that we're getting close to, for many people of Christian faith, there is Holy Week coming. We usually do a Good Friday service in the hospital, but this year we're going to work on putting a virtual service out there. We don't have daily Catholic communion anymore because the diocese has suspended public masses, and then we don't have hospital volunteers to help put those together anymore. Catholic priests now are also only coming in for patients in immediate danger of death and dying. We don't have them coming in on a regular basis to do certain sacramental things.

POHL: We've seen hospitals in places like New York described as overrun with COVID-19 patients, and it makes me wonder if people who do your kind of work at Sparrow are concerned about the future and what it might mean to your work. Can you tell me what the future looks like for you?

SUTTERER: Currently, the hospital’s at a good rate to be able to handle some cases because they went to set themselves up appropriately to be ready for this, knowing what has been happening out on the east coast and knowing some of that has already come to the Detroit area, and it is moving this direction. So, our sign is to be ready and have the availability of staff that we need. And they reassess with us how much we should be here, whether we may be needed off site at some of our other hospitals, who may be getting some of the patients that we can see normally, and we'll continue to contact those patients who are more isolated and we can't get into those rooms. We certainly will continue the phone interviews, the phone calls, to provide support with them, which we have been doing and seems to be working fairly well with them.