The pandemic has been a challenge for people worldwide and in the U.S. over 1 million people have died because of COVID-19 (1). The effect that this illness had on patients and families was complex. Patients could not have visitors and they were isolated from the outside world. A Chaplain I spoke with, who is Muslim, told me the effects that the pandemic had on him and the hospital he works in. He said,

“I was in Brooklyn at that time. When I went to the hospital, I saw huge trucks in front of the hospital morgues because of the number of people dying in the hospital. While I was visiting 30 to 50 patients a day, two-thirds of them were passing away. It is a kind of heartbreaking issue. We also lost one of the Chaplains on our team because of COVID-19. It touched my heart. That was a very difficult time for the healthcare professionals” (2).

This is the effect that the pandemic had on patients in a hospital setting, which allowed Chaplains to come into the room to see patients to help with having a personal connection. Oftentimes, Chaplains would pray with patients and their families through an Ipad while patients are in pain, struggling to breathe, and are often hooked up to many machines like a ventilator to help them breathe. This was the only way for patients to see their family members and it was hard. Imagine not being able to see a sibling, parent, or grandparent when they pass away because there is a chance that you could get COVID-19 as a result and have the same struggles that they had.

In a hospice setting, the challenge of the pandemic was different. I spoke to a hospice Chaplain who works part-time in Colorado and identifies herself as pan-spiritual. She said,

“Hospice is also not typically a place where we get an infectious disease. So if you are going to die of an infectious disease, typically you would die in the hospital, not in a hospice. We are just not set up for it. The pandemic really switched that to where we had lots of patients dying of COVID-19 in the hospice. The Intensive Care Unit would say, this person is terminal, they are going to die if they have some other condition. And they would come to receive hospice services, which is not typically how we are set up. So it was stressful for every aspect of healthcare, but certainly, we had many, many patients die of COVID-19 on our watch” (3).

This change of care was very challenging for people who work in hospice care and Chaplains, especially in hospice services, had to adapt to this change. The pandemic caused doctors and nurses to burn out because the facilities were at their capacity and had too many patients to care for at one time. Chaplains not only comforted the patients and families but also were there for the healthcare workers, who were exhausted because of the weight that was put on their shoulders as a result of the pandemic.

Author: Jose Serna


(1) COVID-19 Data Tracker

(2) Interview with a Chaplain at a New York hospital

(3) Interview with a Chaplain in a Colorado hospice