Keeping the Heart in Medicine: 50 Years of Spiritual Care at BWH
Clinicians, chaplains and other care providers gathered last week to commemorate the BWH Spiritual Care Services Department’s 50th anniversary of helping patients heal in body, mind and spirit.
More than 100 people attended an event capping a year of celebrations for the anniversary, a milestone reached in 2015, at the Building for Transformative Medicine on Oct. 20. Speakers reflected on the history of spiritual care at BWH and the path ahead for its practice.
“Guests of the event represented a rich diversity of many of the disciplines that Spiritual Care Services works with on a daily basis, including chaplains, social workers, nurses, physicians and administrators,” said Laurie Bittmann, MA, operations manager for Spiritual Care and the Department of Nutrition. “Over the history of Spiritual Care Services, chaplains have become an integral part of the patient care team, and it was an honor to have each of these disciplines together.”
Spiritual care began at the Brigham with William Leach, an Episcopal priest, who became the hospital’s first full-time chaplain in 1965 and has continued to “reflect the evolution of health care chaplaincy in the United States,” said Kathleen Gallivan, SNDdeN, PhD, BWH Spiritual Care Services director.
Over the last 50 years, Spiritual Care Services (formerly the Chaplaincy Services Department) has grown and expanded to meet the religious and spiritual needs of patients and families. The Pastoral Visitors Program was established in 1979 – and is still in place today – to provide the general public with an opportunity to provide spiritual support to patients and families.
In the 1990s, the department embraced a multifaith model and assigned chaplains to units of the hospital, rather than organizing them by religious affiliation. As medicine advanced over the years, chaplains were often called on to support patients in making difficult ethical decisions, such as life-prolonging care.
In the 2000s, BWH chaplains became more active participants in the delivery of care as members of a multidisciplinary team. Chaplains are now required members of palliative care teams at the hospital. The BWH Clinical Pastoral Education residency and internship programs were established during this time to educate the next generation of health care chaplains and professionals.
Rev. Trace Haythorn, PhD, executive director for the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), praised the Brigham’s spiritual care program as a model for hospitals around the world.
“Programs like the one at Brigham and Women’s Hospital set the bar for quality, diversity and compassion,” she said. “Kathy Gallivan’s leadership is exceptional, and the rich and important history of the Brigham serves as a beacon for our work as we look to the future.”
Watch the “Journeys of the Spirit” video below to learn more about BWH Spiritual Care Services.
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