In today's Boston Globe, health/science reporter Liz Kowalczyk takes a look at the increase in demand for chaplains at Boston hospitals. The story features Jesuit Father George Winchester who talks about his special role as a minister to the sick and dying while requests for his visits soar.
Minutes after arriving at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Rev. George Winchester received an urgent page from the intensive care unit. A man was dying. The chaplain should come immediately.
Winchester found the patient and his son lightly crying. “I hear you’ve made a big decision,’’ he said.
The conversation marked the start of a relentless recent workday for the Catholic priest, a day that included the traditional jobs of a hospital chaplain, such as anointing of the sick, but that also involved duties once reserved for doctors and nurses: attending medical rounds and helping run a difficult family meeting.
There was no shortage of work. The number of requests from patients, families, and staff for spiritual guidance in one of the country’s most technology-rich medical hubs has soared, as hospitals have expanded the role and number of chaplains.
Since 2004, requests for chaplains at the Brigham have jumped 23 percent. At Massachusetts General Hospital, requests have grown 30 percent since the hospital began tracking visits in 2006. And at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which expanded its pastoral care program last year, monthly visits are expected to rise to at least 540 this month, a 10-fold increase over the same time last year.