On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

An INTEGRIS Chaplain's Life During COVID-19

Brian Warfield is the manager of pastoral care at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City. He has served in pastoral care at INTEGRIS Health for nine years.

So many hospital workers are bravely serving on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Pastoral Care provides spiritual support for patients, their families and hospital staff. During this difficult time, Chaplain Warfield and his team of pastoral care workers have been dedicated to providing spiritual guidance to the community.

How chaplains serve at INTEGRIS Health

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, chaplains served INTEGRIS patients and caregivers by offering spiritual guidance and care during some of the most difficult days of a person’s life.

“We show up in the hardest of times, such as death, code blues and infant loss, and I quickly learned that our presence is greatly valued in those moments,” Warfield says. “The most important thing I can do is show up for the family, health care team and patient. Being present and bearing witness to whatever is occurring in the room is powerful. That could mean praying with a patient who just received a lung transplant or going with a father to the waiting room as he tells his children that their mom has died. We represent something much greater than ourselves. It takes courage to come alongside people and support them in those moments.”

Warfield is a board-certified chaplain who specializes in mental health, chronic illness and pediatrics. He is equipped to handle difficult situations in a way that is supportive and comforting for patients, caregivers and staff. INTEGRIS also has chaplains who specialize in emergency medicine, transplantation, neurology, oncology, burn patients and palliative care.

“Chaplains develop skills that help us in our roles, such as facilitating family meetings, conflict resolution and grief support,” Warfield says. “The greatest skill we can offer is showing up and being emotionally available to the people in the room. I often act as a bridge between patients and their clinical staff, clergy members or family outside of the hospital.”

Chaplains offer services to everyone, regardless of race, gender or denomination. When a patient requests spiritual support while staying in the hospital, the chaplains can help to connect them with a religious leader of their choosing.

“I enjoy getting to be an ally for patients of different faiths and reaching out to their imam, rabbi or priest to come support them at the hospital,” Warfield says. “I value the learning opportunity that comes with meeting diverse people.”

A chaplain’s COVID-19 experience

A hospital chaplain is often called on in times of difficulty. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the INTEGRIS pastoral care team to adapt to new guidelines and protocols as they emerge.

“In the first few weeks of COVID-19, our work shifted to supporting our clinical caregivers,” Warfield says. “They were caring for patients with a disease we didn’t know much about, and were most concerned about taking the virus home to their families. Our chaplains rounded every day, talking with individual caregivers, listening to their concerns and encouraging them. Typically we send out a weekly devotional email to all 10,000 INTEGRIS caregivers, but we ramped that up to a daily devotional. We also created a booklet of written prayers from a variety of religions and perspectives.”

As the health system started treating more COVID-19 patients, the chaplains noticed the physical and emotional toll on staff and stepped in to offer even support.

“Our frontline workers were physically and emotionally exhausted as they put on their masks, face shields, gowns and gloves and cared for these patients for several hours at a time,” Warfield says. “You could see the impression of the masks on their faces as they would take them off for a quick break. We started a daily prayer that was broadcast on Facebook Live every day at noon. We had anywhere from 200 to 1,000 views for these prayers. We also offered a prayer on the PA system, so everyone in the building could hear it.”

In addition to supporting the frontline workers, it is just as important for chaplains to minister to patients and their families, all while maintaining social distancing guidelines. This can be difficult for chaplains, who spend most of their time sitting next to people and talking.

“We usually visit between 20 and 30 new patients every day,” Warfield explains. “So, we needed to find a way to visit with them virtually or through technology, rather than physically entering 30 patient rooms. Our visitor policy prohibited any family or friends from visiting patients. This is especially hard when critical, end-of-life decisions need to be made. I would often consult with the physicians and then call the family to update them. Many families were surprised to get a call from a chaplain, but after I shared the patient update and asked if I could pray for them, they consistently said yes.”

When the chaplains offer in-person support to patients and caregivers, it’s imperative that they take all necessary precautions. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is a key part of keeping everyone safe.

“The first time I put on the giant rubber respirator I felt like I was going into battle. It was really surreal,” Warfield says. “Now, I see it more like putting on vestments or a stole for an important sacrament or religious service. That helps me see the importance of what I’m doing with respect to my role and with respect to honoring the guidelines that are there to protect me and the patient.”

Faith in a time of uncertainty

“As I think about this experience in theological terms, I think of how God came to the world in human flesh and dwelled among the sick, downtrodden and marginalized,” Warfield says. “In many ways, our patients and clinical staff feel isolated. I get to visit with them and remind them that God is with them.”

“I hope that this makes all of us more grateful for things that we often take for granted, like social gatherings, community and physical contact,” Warfield says. “My faith keeps me centered and reminds me we are not promised tomorrow. It also helps ground me in compassion and hospitality. This virus may change how I do my job, but I can still make a difference by doing small acts of kindness and showing compassion to someone who is hurting.”

While offering spiritual support to the community during the trying times of this pandemic, Warfield has also taken stock of the silver linings that can come from difficult circumstances.

“My faith has helped me see how adversity provides an opportunity for new things to emerge,” he says. “It seems like we were all forced to hit the pause button on our fast-paced society and required us to go back to activities like bike riding, preparing meals at home and having extra time to spend with our immediate family around the house. New habits and new ways of doing things start to emerge and I see that in a spiritual sense.”

From doctors and nurses to administrative staff, sanitation workers and on-site chaplains, every INTEGRIS caregiver is united in caring for patients through these uncertain times. “Humans are made in the image of God,” Warfield says. “Caring for human beings is our highest priority.”

Find more information about COVID-19 at the INTEGRIS COVID-19 Resource Center.