Spiritual Care in Healthcare: Identifying Decision Makers’ Perspectives

Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University), George Fitchett (Rush University), Andy Garman (Rush University), Trace Haythorn (ACPE)

Funded by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, ACPE, Association for Professional Chaplains, Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Hospital, and National Association of Catholic Chaplains

Results from this project are now available here:

Antoine, Aja; Fitchett, George; Marin, Deborah; Sharma, Vanshdeep; Garman, Andrew; Haythorn, Trace; White, Kelsey; Greene, Amy; and Cadge, Wendy (2020). “What organizational and business models underlie the provision of spiritual care in healthcare organizations? An initial description and analysis,” Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, published online 28 Dec 2020.

The project is also discussed in these blog posts and webinars:

Data is not symbolic

What is demand-focused spiritual care?

Executive perspectives on chaplains on the healthcare team

Webinar: Spiritual Care in Healthcare: Identifying Decision Makers’ Perspectives

Chaplains have been trying to make their case by articulating their value in healthcare organizations since the earliest days of the profession. In 1939 Russell Dicks delivered his now classic speech, “The Work of the Chaplain in a General Hospital,” to members of the American Protestant Hospital Association. Numerous statements about the profession, conferences, and outreach and advocacy efforts followed. Some of these efforts targeted healthcare providers, while others focused on patients, family members, and congregations. Absent from almost all of this work, however, was informed awareness of how key decision makers in healthcare think about and value the work of chaplains. This lack of knowledge has become particularly salient as financial responsibility for most chaplains has shifted from endorsing religious organizations to healthcare organizations. Importantly, there is limited research about how care from chaplains influences outcomes such as patient satisfaction, length of stay, readmission and health status. In the absence of such research, we seek to know what informs managers’ decisions about spiritual care services.

This project will be conducted in two stages. First we will conduct short case studies of four healthcare institutions: two where chaplaincy or spiritual care services have recently expanded and two where they have been reduced. Interviews with chaplaincy leaders and the managers to whom they report in these institutions will provide us with an initial look at the factors that influenced these changes and also inform the development of the interviews for the next step in the project.

We then will conduct interviews with key decision makers in healthcare to learn how they understand chaplaincy and spiritual care, whether they value it, and what sorts of opportunities they can imagine for chaplains in response to the biggest challenges in healthcare in the next ten years. Such decision makers, selected from a national pool, will include Chief Operating Officers, Vice-Presidents for Patient Care Services, Chief Nursing Administrators, Chief Patient Experience Officers and others to whom chaplaincy managers report. We are as interested in how these individuals understand chaplaincy and spiritual care as in how they imagine opportunities for spiritual care providers in response to pressing issues in healthcare in the years ahead.