The Chronogram: The Chaplain’s Job

From Erica Ruggiero at  The Chronogram:

In the world of coronavirus, the halls at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie are quieter than normal. While still accepting non-COVID patients, fewer guests and visitors roam the halls and fill the waiting rooms of the hospital. The day-to-day care of the sick and injured continues as normal, however, as hospital staff care for their patients. Rabbi Neal Loevinger, director of spiritual care at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, and his fellow chaplains also are continuing their work during the pandemic, ministering to patients, patients’ families, and hospital staff.

What has been the most difficult for you during this time at the hospital?

NL: I think what’s been most difficult for chaplains is that we are so accustomed to being present with people in a holistic way. We see the tears on their face. We read their body language, we look in people’s eyes, we touch a hand or the back of someone’s arm during prayer. And to try to bring that intensity of presence to an electronic connection is challenging. That’s been an adjustment and there’s been so many times with staff, you just want to put your arm around somebody. But with social and physical distancing, we have to be careful. We have to really think about how to give the fullness of our presence in a different way than we’re used to.

Have you all developed any new skills or tools that you’re using?

NL: Oh yes. I think that how you relate to somebody on the phone is different than how you relate to them on Zoom is different than how you relate to them in person. Imagine paying attention to someone talking with your eyes closed. You’re going to be focusing on hearing every little nuance in a different way than if you’re watching or staring. You’re using your own voice in a different way on the phone than you would be in person.

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