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Hospital chaplains in Billings adjust for COVID-19 protocols

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Posted at 11:12 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 16:15:02-04

Patients and families often have a need for care from their clergy.

But COVID-19 has changed how that care is given for chaplains at the two hospitals in Billings.

Daily Mass is one way chaplains help patients at St. Vincent Healthcare.

"One of our chaplains is a full-time Catholic priest and he provides mass every day of the week," said Chaplain John Jamison of St. Vincent Healthcare. "But because we're not supposed to be gathering together in groups of people, he performs mass to an empty chapel. Those services however, are streamed live into every patient room."

Billings Clinic chaplains also need to use the technology.

"Go electronic and do telephonic chaplaincy, so we're all learning to change in this world," said Chaplain Alan Roof, Billings Clinic pastoral care coordinator.

Outside clergy can not enter the hospitals except in end-of-life cases, and that changes the work for chaplains.

"We receive a lot of phone calls from folks either from patients themselves or from their families, saying, in the absence of our pastor being able to go up and see our loved one, could you do that for us," Jamison said.

They have a new challenge when they can meet in person.

"We rely so much on body language," said Roof. "With a mask on our face and a mask on the patient's face, we lose half of our ability to read those things."

For patients, a hospital stay brings a need for a chaplain.

"When people are in the hospital, especially under these current conditions, they have a tendency to kind of think more than usual about the things of the Lord or their situation," Jamison said. "So we get a lot of calls from people that want to talk with a chaplain."

"When people end up in the hospital, there's a natural sense of anxiety," Roof said. "We can all in these times get tunnel vision and we forget all the blessings we have around us."

"The lord is there," Jamison said. "He's walking this journey with you. Reach out. Depend on your family. Depend on your friends. They're there for you. Pray."

Both chaplains are able to help people of all denominations and religions.