By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Philadelphia, the managers at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia asked the chaplains if they wanted to work from home or if they were comfortable being in the hospital.
Robin Ross initially wasn’t comfortable working in the hospital. She was concerned about the possibility of getting sick; she has asthma, one of the health conditions that can exacerbate COVID-19. She also worried about potentially exposing her family to the coronavirus.
“I remember when we first started talking about this as a department,” Ross said. “I said ‘I’m not placing myself in a situation. If I have to choose between me or them, I choose me every time.’”
Her team had that conversation on a Friday. Two days later, during her church’s first virtual meeting, the preacher’s words resonated with her.
“I really felt like God was saying to me through that preached word — I got you,” Ross said. “It doesn’t matter if I get sick or if I don’t get sick, I know that God is still here with me. I just need to put my faith and trust in him. As he has called me to do this work, he will cover me as I do it.”
Ross told her manager that she changed her mind and she’s been working in the hospital with coronavirus patients ever since.
“It’s a blessing to be here at this time,” she said.
Ross said she and the other chaplains — there are three full-time chaplains and four chaplain residents in training at Einstein — have become surrogate family members for coronavirus patients because their families are not allowed to come in and visit.
The chaplains continue to visit some patients, and use Facetime and Zoom to help them connect with their families. That has been “such a powerful experience for the patients as well as their families,” Ross said.
The chaplains communicate with other patients through phone calls.
Rabbi Leah Wald, the manager of Einstein’s chaplains department, said their jobs are more crucial now.
“When patients are in the hospital and they are experiencing medical changes, or potential loss, or new diagnosis, the emotions can be overwhelming and feel chaotic,” Wald said.
“Chaplains can help people talk through what they are experiencing and help turn that chaos into something that the patients can then express. By putting it into words, it helps the patients be able to define how they are feeling and talk about the decisions that they want to make and identify coping skills.”
The chaplains try to visit or connect with as many COVID-19 patients as possible.
Ross recalled an occasion when she donned personnel protective equipment and visited a makeshift unit of 14 coronavirus patients. She went from bed to bed, praying for all the patients. A nurse who wasn’t working the unit walked in and translated Ross’ prayer for a patient who spoke another language.