People facing serious illness, who would welcome spiritual support but cannot travel, now have access to new resources. Thanks to the Internet, support is available from ChaplainsonHand.org, ChaplainCareforVeterans.org and CantBelieveIHaveCancer.org. All three websites offer resources to respond to spiritual distress, help in defining personal spirituality, and guidance for end of life decisions. These sites make it possible for clients to talk with chaplains via email or video chats, as well as by phone.
Reverend Eric Hall is president of the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network (HCCN), a new nonprofit based in New York. He says,
When people are faced with a crisis, somewhere in their minds and in their hearts, they ask questions about why this is happening to them. We face our own frailty, and people want an answer and to be able to talk it out.
Hall says the new services are an outgrowth of changes in medicine such as tele-health services, more outpatient care, and shorter hospital stays. Chaplains who previously visited patients in the hospital must now find different ways to provide support.
The demand is clearly there. CantBelieveIHaveCancer.org had 200,000 unique visitors in its first four months. The site works with chaplains of all religious affiliations throughout the country, and they respond to client requests for support within one day.
The Healthcare Chaplaincy’s Director of Programs and Services, Reverend Amy Strano says, “People are isolated and alone so much of the time, and spiritual care is something that has often been dismissed and ignored.” She says loneliness, guilt, and questions about suffering are the concerns most often raised by clients.
Lisa Anderson-Shaw, who is Director of Clinical Ethics for the University of Illinois Hospital and Health System, says:
After patients are no longer in the hospital, many find themselves without the spiritual support they had while hospitalized. Many rural areas may not have a church. Or, the closest church may be many miles away, making homebound persons unable to find the spiritual care they wish to have. Privacy may also be a concern for patients and families who live in small, rural communities and wish to keep health information more private.
Pew Research Center polls show one-fifth of Americans now say they are religiously unaffiliated, although they may identify as spiritual. HCCN hopes their chaplains can fill a gap by responding to the needs of clients while remaining flexible in terms of theological frameworks.