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Mercy COVID Care @ Home

Mercy chaplains tap technology to connect with COVID Care @ Home patients

When Mercy launched COVID Care @ Home early in the pandemic, the focus was on connecting patients who had tested positive for the virus with medical care providers 24/7 by text, video and phone as they recovered at home.

It wasn’t long before Mercy chaplains asked if they could offer emotional support and spiritual care services to those patients. “I think we encountered a lot of our at-home patients dealing with the uncertainty that we were all facing, of not knowing what the disease was or how it would affect us personally or communally,” says Justin Martin, a board-certified chaplain who is part of Mercy Virtual, the Chesterfield, Missouri-based system’s virtual hospital and telehealth center.

Most of the at-home patients, Martin notes, were quarantined alone or in spaces separate from others in their families. “That brought on a lot of emotional and spiritual distress,” he says.

Mercy tapped Martin and Cody Alley, a board-certified chaplain and spiritual care supervisor based at Mercy Hospital Lebanon in Southwestern Missouri, to come up with a way to add spiritual care to COVID Care @ Home. The two consulted with physicians and leaders within Mercy Virtual to figure out how to identify patients desiring the care and how the health system could process referrals for the care.

Spiritual 911
By September 2020, with the support of Mercy’s technology services team, the two chaplains had developed and begun using a screening tool delivered through a series of short text messages.

Within two years, more than 240,000 patients across Mercy’s service areas in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas had undergone the screenings and about 16% of them had self-reported distress. Mercy asked those patients if they’d like to speak with a Mercy chaplain by phone. About 2,000 patients said yes.

Chaplains from across Mercy call COVID Care @ Home patients who request spiritual care. Their role, Martin says, is “being present and journeying alongside those patients, providing them encouragement and support, and helping them connect back to what is meaningful for them as they make sense of their illness.”

For its innovative approach to detecting spiritual distress among COVID patients who are getting virtual care and linking them to chaplains, the Mercy COVID Care @ Home Spiritual Care program is the 2023 recipient of CHA’s highest annual honor —the Achievement Citation. CHA presented the award during the Catholic Health Assembly, which the association held virtually this year.