Hebrew SeniorLife is committed to a whole person approach to health, aging and well-being, with an emphasis on meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of residents and patients. In 2006, the HSL Chaplaincy Institute welcomed its first class of eight students to the only Jewish geriatric chaplaincy training program in the United States accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE).
Clinical pastoral education (CPE) is a method of training clergy and other health-care professionals to minister to people in need, applying the theology that is learned in the classroom to real-life situations. Caring for older adults requires special expertise and attention to palliative care, dementia, and Jewish understanding of end-of-life care. The goals of the CPE program are to teach students about Jewish pastoral care in a long-term care setting and to expand pastoral services available to residents and patients. The Rev. Mary Martha Thiel, an experienced chaplain who ran the CPE program at Massachusetts General Hospital, teaches, supervises and coordinates the program. Students include rabbis, rabbinical students, and lay people. To become a certified chaplain, a student must complete 4 units of combined classroom and clinical experience, as well as an additional year of full-time chaplaincy work.
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, director of Religious and Chaplaincy Services, says the HRC chaplains help to promote a caring community. "Our residents often face difficult situations, and they and their families deserve religious and spiritual support," says Rabbi Sara. "Aging residents in long-term care often think about ‘what is the meaning of my life?; how can I live with dignity given the challenges of aging?' Our chaplains help them find hope and have resilience each day. Many people reflect on their lives and are able to make peace with their past."
CPE students and the chaplaincy staff are also available to support the HSL staff. When staff members have events in their own lives that are troubling, they can seek out a chaplain for reassurance, prayer or emotional support. Hali Diecidue, cantor and chaplain at HRC, points out that the staff become very attached to the residents they care for over the years, and when the residents die, the staff deserve attention to their spiritual needs as they grieve.
The CPE program has allowed the Department of Religious and Chaplaincy Services to expand its reach by placing a CPE student on all 18 units, and with Hebrew SeniorLife's Adult Day Health Program. To meet HSL's institution-wide commitment to excellence in dementia care, CPE students receive advanced training in meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of dementia patients. Rabbi Sara says that religious memories and rituals often remain accessible longer than other memories, and the residents with dementia often find comfort in hearing prayers, singing, reminiscing, and giving and receiving blessings.