Hospital chaplains face new role due to COVID-19

Posted at 6:46 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 21:01:02-04

DENVER — With an outbreak of an infectious disease like COVID-19, isolation is critical to stop the spread. But as a hospital patient, separation from friends and loved ones can sometimes hinder recovery time. That's why hospital chaplains are taking on a new role amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Eric Christianson has been at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver for nearly three weeks because of recurring complications from a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia three years ago.

"Oh, my God! It's been awful. It's been horrible," his wife, Jennifer Christianson, said.

His wife and his kids can't see him in person because of COVID-19 precautions that are in place.

"The thing that makes this more difficult is the patients being isolated from their family members," Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center Chaplain Micheal Guthrie said.

Outside of doctors, the only person Eric Christianson can really speak to is the hospital chaplain.

"It's great knowing that he can go in and see Eric. He's a great guy," Jennifer Christianson said.

"Much of my job function is not changed. I'm still caring for staff. Still taking care of patients," Guthrie added.

But that isolation makes it much tougher on patients, both physically and emotionally.

"Given the isolation, it's extremely important because we're able to go where no one else can go," Guthrie said.

He's making it a point to visit patients more because of that, to have both general and spiritual conversations with patients.

"He's got to be making a huge impact on a lot of people right now," Jennifer Christianson said.

Hospital staff also has their own needs. Guthrie is helping them with stress resilience. Something he feels is so important during this new normal.

"For me, I feel like this work is very sacred, and I do feel honored that that I've been placed at this time at this hospital to be able to be a spiritual and emotional support to both our patients and also to our staff," Guthrie said.