A Chaplain Provides Needed Spiritual Care

August 23, 2019

By: Allison Kauffman

When it comes to aging, spiritual care should be a priority along with physical care. At Albright Care Services, there is a chaplain on staff at Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community and RiverWoods Senior Living Community. Not all retirement living communities have a chaplain on staff, but Albright Care Services believes a chaplain plays a key role in the lives of their residents and staff.

Shaun Smith, President & CEO of Albright Care Services, said, “We are very blessed to be able to offer chaplain services at both RiverWoods and NormandieRidge.  Our chaplains offer support in so many ways and really are an integral part of our communities.”

So what exactly does a chaplain do? A chaplain is traditionally a cleric, such as a minister or pastor, attached to a secular institution. That can include a hospital, retirement community, nursing home, prison, school, fire or police department, university or chapel. The chaplain supports patients and staff with spiritual and religious concerns and act not only as spiritual counselors, but as advocates for patients and staff.

The credentials of a professional chaplain demonstrate training similar to other disciplines including a graduate degree, clinical residency, national certification and annual continuing education. At Normandie Ridge, the Sara Kelly Little Fund helps with continuing education for staff development. Sara Little was a resident at Normandie Ridge and as part of her legacy, she left a number of charitable gift annuities with a number of beneficiaries, including Normandie Ridge. Reverend David Brinker, chaplain at Normandie Ridge, has utilized this fund.

Brinker said, “I’m very blessed and privileged to have that resource. In the past, I was able to utilize the fund to participate in a professional training called Clinical Pastoral Education, which is a standard for chaplain training.”

Chaplain Brinker is now interested in a new training on grief. He will be able to use the fund to pay for a specialized training on that topic. Brinker explained, “Here at Normandie Ridge and elsewhere, there are grieving people. So, I wanted to be able to have skill training and some content that was proven to address this need because it’s present and it’s going to be ongoing.”

Brinker said he found a program called The Grief Recovery Method, “It is a program that has been in existence for several years. It is not clinical therapy, but it’s a proven approach to help people move through grief. It also is comprehensive, so it deals with all kinds of grief. For example, there is anticipatory grief that some people may have with loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. They are grieving before they die. There is grief from the death of the spouse, grieving that comes with moving or a change of location and there is a grief that comes with aging as you lose ability, you have to give up your car and your home and your physical abilities. Folks also think about the death of a spouse as being the main source of grief, but there are many other grief sources.”

The Chaplain believes this is an important step for the residents. He explained, “I know that grief is here and it’s affecting many people. I’m not sure we are dealing with it very intentionally as a care team. This is something that I can do because it’s a proven method. It has a track record and is evidence based. It has been used by chaplains, nurses and therapeutic clinicians who have also gotten the training. It comes pretty well recommended. “

It requires going away for a three-day weekend and being trained in the method. Chaplain Brinker will go to the training December 6th-9th in Philadelphia. Following the training, he is planning to offer grief counseling to the residents at Normandie Ridge.

Chaplain Brinker said this is part of a professional chaplain’s work, “I think many times, the work of a chaplain is misunderstood, as being narrowly defined as only religious work. The work of a chaplain is really focused on spiritual care and bringing together an awareness of how the life changes that are here that occur with aging and how they interface with spiritual issues. Spiritual issues may not necessarily be religious issues. Spirituality has to do with meaning, coping, hope and purpose. There are those who find answers to those kinds of existential needs in religion and in faith, but not all of our human experience in those arenas is exclusively answered by just religious material and resources.”

So a chaplain focuses not just on religion, as maybe a pastor might, but the primary work of a chaplain is spiritual assessment, not just functioning as a religious person. He explained, “We try to help learn what the resident needs. What is their spiritual longing? What are their spiritual coping resources? How can I come along side of them and reinforce them or provide additional things to help them or do something supplemental to help them rediscover or reorient their life so they feel like they have purpose.”

According to SpiritualCareAssociation.org, there is increasing evidence that patients rely on their spiritual and religious beliefs and want those values taken into consideration in planning their care. Chaplains, just like all other health care professionals, must develop patient-centered care research. However, there is not one definition of spirituality that is appropriate for all. Spiritual care refers to interventions made by any caregiver that addresses a patient’s spiritual needs. Chaplaincy care is specialized spiritual care that can make a significant difference in the lives of the residents they care for.