Caring for People while Physically Separated

Caring for People while Physically Separated

by Matthew Kitchener

As a Spiritual Health intern at a Vancouver long-term care home, I’ve seen the effects of COVID-19 regulations, which have kept our residents physically safe. Residents with dementia lament as they wonder again “Why didn’t my kids visit today?” Staff carry extra work with grace, while carrying the stress of a partner who lost their job and kids out of school.

Here is one story about how we are adapting our pastoral care.

Pre-COVID, we held monthly memorial services for residents who died the previous month. A few family members, staff and residents would gather in the chapel for most services. But now with safety regulations related to spacing and visitors in place, gathering was impossible.

Our team decided to try an online service. The chaplains and an organist led alone from the chapel. Family members and residents joined using Zoom, the video conference application. We also attached computers to televisions in each dining room so residents and staff members on each floor could watch and participate in the service.

Although we can’t wait for the day families can be physically present, I am grateful for technology that allows for real, though virtual, pastoral care.

The technology hasn’t been perfect. Once, while trying to mute a participant who entered the service with his mic on, I accidentally muted the entire service. Thankfully that only lasted ten seconds!

The results have been better than expected. A record number of family, staff and residents participated, and we heard stories we wouldn’t have heard otherwise. In our last service two siblings separated by 1000 miles shared a touching eulogy together and thanked the staff “live”.  Although we can’t wait for the day families can be physically present, I am grateful for technology that allows for real, though virtual, pastoral care.

About the author

Matt grew up in the USA and Brazil as a son of pastor/missionaries but has spent the majority of his life in Canada-the last 15 years in Vancouver, BC. For the last two decades, he has served churches in Red Deer, Alberta and Vancouver. He has been married to Essie for 25 years and they have two children, Anna and Zach, who are currently pursuing post-secondary education in Victoria and Abbotsford. They also have a Shih Tzu-Yorkie dog named Mazey. Matt is currently finishing up his training in Clinical Pastoral Education (Chaplaincy) and will be moving into a role as Chaplain for a Long-Term Care Facility on the Vancouver North Shore.
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