In light of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, many departments at Massachusetts General Hospital are using virtual technology to provide care to promote social distancing while continuing to deliver the safest, most compassionate care.

Among those groups is the Spiritual Care Department, which provides spiritual support to patients, families and staff across all belief systems, cultures, backgrounds, and even those who do not have a specific faith tradition.

There are 15 spiritual care providers at the MGH, who each typically visit with 40 to 60 patients and their families on a weekly basis. Since the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic, providers have been working from home and conducting virtual visits on the phone or via video visits. Despite the challenges of being separated from the patients and staff, the department’s mission remains the same.

“We are providing 24/7 spiritual care, and responding to the increasing spiritual needs of staff with many forms of support, including phone calls, emails, and other materials,” says Rabbi Ben Lanckton, MGH spiritual care provider. “There is a pager which is monitored by a spiritual care provider at all times for any situation. Sometimes we have to provide responses from home, but in addition, one of us is at the hospital Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm to provide emergency spiritual care for patients and families who aren’t able to visit because of the new hospital visitor policy. ”

Support offerings included emailing messages of support to staff, and saying a prayer and intention for a patient and their family facing a particularly difficult situation.The most common service the department providers end of life support.

“We’ve had times that a spiritual care provider is the only person who can visit a patient,” Lanckton says. “A family member could be quarantined so they can’t visit their own family member who is dying. Our spiritual care provider is the human connection between the family member and the person in the hospital.”

In addition to in-person and virtual aid, the department is slated to roll out a packet of interfaith, multi-belief and multi-cultural source of coping with stress. Lanckton says this information guide will be printed in six languages, for 11 religions.

We’re redoubling our efforts to provide spiritual care. That’s why we’re here. This is it. We don’t get to choose the hour we serve. This is what we have to do.

Rabbi Ben Lanckton
Spiritual Care Provider, Massachusetts General Hospital

The Spiritual Care team also joins forces with several MGH departments to accommodate the needs of patients.

One recent traditionally-observant patient had been receiving kosher food from her family. She grew concerned after the visitor policy—prohibiting all visitors at the hospital with some exceptions—went into effect that she would not be able to have specific foods and books needed to celebrate Shabbat, which is Judaism’s day of rest. Also known as the Sabbath, Shabbat begins at sundown every Friday, and ends at sunset on Saturday.

“I called Police and Security and asked for permission to have a family member bring food and a few books that a traditionally observant Jewish person needed,” Lanckton said. “The family member brought the items to the hospital, passed them off to the security officer and one of our rabbis brought the food to the patient. Not a great Sabbath in the hospital, but a Sabbath nonetheless. This is how the MGH team is working within the necessary parameters during this crisis to provide spiritual care to patients.”

Although the ongoing coronavirus situation has posed several challenges for spiritual care providers at the MGH, the team is determined to continue to be there for staff, families and patients.

“We’re redoubling our efforts to provide spiritual care,” Lanckton says. “That’s why we’re here. This is it. We don’t get to choose the hour we serve. This is what we have to do.”