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Answering the Call to Serve

Posted on November 16, 2022

Roane Medical Center’s Volunteer Chaplain Program Expands
to Serve Patients, Families and Staff

What does it feel like to have a warm hand holding yours while a prayer is spoken for you, asking for your comfort or encouragement because you cannot find the words? What does it mean to hear a calm voice reciting scripture when you are at your most vulnerable state and confined to a hospital room? 

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital’s Patient Family Partnership Council (PFPC) recognized the need and opportunity to provide more regular access to chaplains and pastoral care. There were constant requests for chaplains to come support patients and their families. But at the time, there were only four chaplains offering prayer, comfort, and bereavement needs. As the program developed and the pandemic worsened, the Council recognized they needed to make sure they were reaching the worn souls of the hospital staff members, which would require more chaplains, so they began recruiting.

Spreading Encouragement

“Employees needed encouragement just as much as the patients,” said Mike McElhinney, Roane Medical Center volunteer chaplain and member of the Patient Family Partnership Council. Jeff Westbrooks, a fellow volunteer and respiratory therapist at Roane Medical added, “We saw a need and hoped we could fulfill it.”

Rev. Sue Lynn Johnson, who was an early volunteer chaplain and a founding member, said she feels like part of the team at Roane. “I have helped distract patients while the doctors and nurses are with a patient or having a hard time,” she says. “My role in my church is Congregational Care, and this program is just an extension.” She recalled being called to the hospital after someone had passed away and at that time, she was able to provide support for the staff. “That was a turning point,” she said. 

The Chaplain program is made up of a unique group. There are 10 denominations represented among the volunteers. Each volunteer chaplain is either an active or retired minister, or a lay leader in their church congregation. Mike remarked that it is very unusual to have such a diverse group of people be part of the same ministerial group; no one’s church doctrine or beliefs are pushed on the recipients.

Answering the Call

“All the volunteer chaplains have the same goal. You know that the Holy Spirit is in the room because we have a shared commitment, and they have all chosen this line of work because they are eager to help and to serve,” said Mike, “I am so proud of the fact that I am a chaplain.”

Rev. Sue Lynn has served in a pastoral care role at her home church and thanks to Mike and Sue Lynn’s outreach, Roane Medical Center now has 22 current volunteer chaplains, with a goal of having 35.  Currently, they have every day of the month covered, with some chaplains being on the schedule two days per month.  The goal is to have every chaplain scheduled one day per month, plus backup.

Jeff said, “We are very blessed to have this commitment. People don’t realize how easy it is to ask for help. By increasing opportunities for staff education, we are normalizing asking for help. We see different patients every day, but it is the same staff every day. If you are not feeling like yourself, it’s hard to take care of another. I am so appreciative to be part of the program. It’s comforting to know you can call and someone will be there in an hour. It’s an extra hand and another tool we have.”

Blessing the Hands that Serve

To infuse each week with a spiritual boost, the chaplains began a weekly devotional. Some chaplains will often bring treats to the staff, along with cards of encouragement. They spend time in prayer over our staff, blessing the hands of those who serve the physical body.

“We made a big push to cover all the staff and all the shifts. We make a point to visit those working the night shift, too. Some chaplains come to the hospital on their days off. It’s proof of the community spirit we have here,” Jeff said.

The chaplains hope the community recognizes that the staff at Roane Medical Center are very dedicated and they welcome the support, as they want to be part of the success. 

Volunteers Wanted

Any leader in a church can apply to join the volunteers. The ideal candidate is someone who sees the opportunity as a calling to serve and a ministry. Someone willing to devote time to walk through and visit. Ordination is not a requirement, “We have a retired nurse chaplain who provides free Bibles to anyone who requests them,” said Mike. “It is anyone interested in serving others.”

Regardless of what the future holds, and whatever beliefs an individual has, a chaplain’s visit serves to support and encourage whoever is on the receiving end of the prayer. Rev. Sue Lynn said, “This is a selfless ministry. “It’s not about the individual chaplain, it puts the focus on the individual’s care.”

The chaplaincy program provides spiritual counseling and guidance for patients, visitors, and staff. A volunteer chaplain is on call 24/7/365. They are available by contacting our registration desk at (865) 316-2300.

If you would like to be part of the Roane Medical Center Volunteer Chaplain Program, please apply here: