A new study of ICU patients' families and friends shows that hospital chaplains provide "enhanced spiritual care," leading to better "spiritual and psychological outcomes."
"We wanted to improve the well-being of ICU family members because there's so much distress that they face, and we were one of the very few studies that have been able to successfully do that," said the study's leader, Dr. Alexia Torke. According to Religion News Service, the study was conducted by the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Medicine.
The study looked at ICUs at Indiana medical centers from August 2018 to November 2021. Respondents included surrogate decision-makers whose loved ones in the ICU could not make medical decisions.
According to the study, those who met with hospital chaplains were "less likely to have anxiety and spiritual distress compared to those in [the] control group," Torke said.
Paul Galchutt, a research chaplain at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, told Religion News Service that the research study was affirming for him.
"I clicked my heels a few times." Galchutt said, calling the research "like a V8 engine for the kind of work we do."
During the study, the control group received usual care from the medical center's chaplains on staff. The intervention group being studied received intensive spiritual care from outside chaplains and had an average of four visits during their loved ones' stays. The control group only saw a chaplain an average of two times.
Chaplains in the intervention group used a spiritual care assessment tool to connect with surrogates.
"It really led me to ask questions that I might have sort of skipped over other times or might have put on sort of the back burner for another conversation or a follow-up visit," said Indiana University Health research chaplain Shelley Varner Perez. Perez was also one of the chaplains involved in the study. "I think that really helped me learn about things that were important I might have missed in my usual practice."
Torke said the study provides information that chaplains are more than just people that provide prayer.
"People have this stereotype that they come for Christian prayer and at end of life," Torke said. "They do those things, absolutely, but the chaplains are trained to care for people of any religion and people of no religion. And that's because the chaplains define spirituality broadly, to include those questions of meaning, purpose, transcendence and relationships that are universal."
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Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.