Hebrew SeniorLife Spiritual Care Brings Meaning During Pandemic

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Changing Needs of Patients, Residents, Family Members, and Front-Line Staff Require New Approaches

BOSTON – Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of older adults, was founded 115-years ago on the Jewish tradition of honoring and respecting our elders and today has a Spiritual Care Team that serves patients, residents, staff, and family members of all traditions and backgrounds. During the pandemic, HSL chaplains are working in HSL hospitals, home care and hospice, assisted living, and independent living communities as members of an interdisciplinary team to provide emotional support and to facilitate reflection and spiritual growth.

With extensive training in clinical pastoral care, HSL chaplains have particular expertise in helping people find meaning, cultivate resilience, and deepen their spiritual lives. Honoring each individual’s cultural and religious traditions as well as the wishes of patients who don’t choose to engage in spiritual activities, the Spiritual Care team provides support in English as well as Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and American Sign Language, and leverages music, support animals, and other techniques designed to help patients affirm their values and what matters most to them. In addition to 1:1 care, the Spiritual Care team offers regular group services (both Jewish and Christian) that are now conducted virtually due to CDC prevention guidelines for COVID-19.

For example, the Spiritual Care team has stepped up to help support and work with families who can’t see their loved ones due to no-visitor policies and self-shelter at home directives. For Passover and Easter, they produced and delivered virtual Passover Seders and Easter Day Services that patients and residents viewed in their rooms or apartments on designated video channels, or by phone with some family members joining in as well.

Increasingly, they counsel family members, patients, residents, and staff who have been affected by COVID-19. According to HSL’s Director of Spiritual Care Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, “Every day our chaplains hold the hands of those who are sick in the hospital. They help them connect via FaceTime or telephone with their families and friends, to give families that little bit of connection and comfort, particularly to those who can no longer be present themselves.”

In addition to counseling patients, residents, and their families, the Spiritual Care staff also counsels HSL employees during this crisis. For example, at one campus the team set up a comfort zone in the synagogue where direct care staff can drop in for a moment of reflection, support, and warmth, and pick up a blessing card.

Rabbi Paasche-Orlow said, “We sit with staff members who are at times shaken up, and we pray with those who are seeking divine support in the face of so much uncertainty.”

Beth Terhune, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center (HRC) in Roslindale, who is covering the long-term chronic care hospital’s COVID-19 unit, said, “I have the privilege of serving alongside the Spiritual Care staff as we care for patients and staff throughout the Roslindale campus. In these last few weeks, chaplains have been active at every level, demonstrating ongoing authentic, direct support to those of us on the frontlines, as well as for the loved ones trying to stay connected to the patients in our care during this most trying of times.”

The Spiritual Care team is also a resource for chaplains and caring professionals outside of HSL. For example, HSL’s Rabbi Beth Naditch, Chaplaincy Educator, has been leading crisis and disaster spiritual care webinars nationally during the COVID-19 crisis. At other times, members of the team have offered leadership and support to the Greater Jewish community outside of the Boston area, and graduates of HSL’s Clinical Pastoral Education program come back monthly on an ongoing basis for clinical supervision.

About Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife is a national senior services leader dedicated to rethinking, researching, and redefining the possibilities of aging. As New England’s largest nonprofit provider of senior health care and living communities, and the only one affiliated with Harvard Medical School, HSL cares for more than 3000 seniors a day across six campuses throughout Greater Boston. Our locations include: Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Boston and Dedham; NewBridge on the Charles, Dedham; Orchard Cove, Canton; Simon C. Fireman Community, Randolph; Center Communities of Brookline, Brookline; and Jack Satter House, Revere. Founded in 1903, HSL also conducts influential research into aging and trains more than 1,000 students in geriatric care each year. Visit https://www.hebrewseniorlife.org, follow us on Twitter @H_SeniorLife, like us on Facebook, or read our blog.