spiritual care

From left: Chaplain James Ojo speaks with patient Denis Obert in his room on Braunwald Tower 12C.

Healing sometimes requires more than medication or sutures. Among those who best understand this are members of Spiritual Care Services, who help deliver holistic care that soothes the mind, body and soul of patients and their loved ones. Working closely with nurses, pharmacists, physicians, social workers and other multidisciplinary providers, Spiritual Care staff are essential members of care teams at the Brigham.

Led by Kathleen Gallivan, PhD, director of Spiritual Care, the department includes more than a dozen full-time and per-diem chaplains. In addition, it has a residency program to educate and train the next generation of spiritual care providers. A member of the team is available 24/7 to support patients, their loved ones and Brigham faculty and staff.

Whether that means joining family meetings to provide perspective on clinical decisions or facilitating wedding ceremonies at the bedside, Brigham chaplains work with inpatient units and clinics across the hospital. In addition, the team services outpatient facilities upon request.

Serving the Spectrum of Faith

While individual chaplains at the Brigham may specialize in a specific faith — including Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Humanism, Islam, Judaism, Pentecostalism, Russian Orthodox and Unitarian Universalism — they all approach spiritual care as a spectrum. This spectrum includes even those who may not identify as religious. Gallivan noted that there has been a nationwide “rise of the nones” — that is, a growth of people who identify as spiritual but whose beliefs don’t align with an organized faith tradition.

“It’s not always about religion,” she said. “It’s often about how people make meaning in their life and what’s important in your life. Our chaplains are trained to support others in that journey.”

This commitment to serving all backgrounds is exemplified by the Brigham’s chapel, which has transformed under Gallivan’s leadership, said Leo F. Buckley Jr., executive director of Business Operations in Patient Care Services and Nursing. The once simple, white chapel is now a welcoming sanctuary with stained glass windows and artwork representing a wide variety of faiths.

“We worked really hard to make it a sacred space and a place where all staff, patients, families and visitors can go to reflect,” Buckley said. 

The chapel, located on Braunwald Tower 1, hosts a daily multifaith service at noon led by a rotating group of chaplains. Visitors can share prayer requests on yellow sticky notes that are posted on a whiteboard and read at the daily service.

“We’re bringing the intentions of patients and families into the moment and in praying for them and for the staff,” Gallivan said.

Care and Collaboration

Over the years, the integration of Spiritual Care staff in day-to-day care has grown exponentially. Buckley recalled how when he started at the Brigham in 1996, spiritual care was often viewed as an ancillary service. Now, however, members of the department have become a critical part of the patient care team. Spiritual Care Services has always been highly valued, he said, but their role has shifted over time. Chaplains are now are called in proactively to join a patient’s care experience from start to finish.

In their work at the Brigham, chaplains don’t just offer care to patients, but they also extend that care to their colleagues across the institution.

One example of this is the program “Tea for the Soul.” At these events, chaplains serve tea and treats and provide faculty and staff a moment of pause in their often fast-paced work day. These gatherings are designed to encourage reflection and provide care to faculty and staff who spend all day caring for others.

For Fr. James Ojo, MA, BCC, staff chaplain and Catholic priest, the nature of the chaplaincy is one of collaboration.

“The cohesion between the chaplains of different faith has enriched my own spiritual journey and vice versa,” Ojo said. “We take that to the patient, too. It’s a very wonderful experience that as different faith communities we can walk together and build a more cohesive, united society.”


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