Book Review — Spiritual Needs & Chaplaincy Services: A National Empirical Study on Chaplaincy Encounters in Health Care Settings

September-October 2002


Bartholomew Rodrigues, MDiv; Deanna Rodrigues, PhD; and Sr. D. Lynn Casey, SCL
Providence Health System, Southern Oregon Service Area, Medford, OR, 2000, 76 pp. Providence Health System does not offer the book for sale. However, it is available from amazon for $18 (paperback).

Although the events of September 11 ripped the fabric of our society, terrorism has not been the only recent source of serious change. Exploding costs and falling revenues have had a bomb-like effect on the U.S. health care scene. Managed care has not turned out to be the cure-all that some had hoped it would be. On the other hand, no one has come forward to offer a better way.

All this change has left caregivers and health care institutions spinning and patients and their families holding on for dear life. The very meaning of the term “health care professional” has been redefined, often by the people who are least qualified to do so. Budgets are crushed. Positions are redefined or eliminated. The bottom line becomes the “gospel,” and all who work in health care are forced to do more with less. But how, in such an environment, do we establish criteria for quality? How do we determine the effectiveness of our work? Do we, as institutions, departments, and individuals, have anything to say about mission and vision?

None of this is new to us chaplains. We do suffer from the same changes (which others sometimes forget), but then we have always been forced to define and redefine who we are. We frequently are subjected to preconceived notions about us (and about God!), and we have always had to work with minimal staff providing “24/7” coverage. We do all this while trying to remain personally and professionally healthy ourselves. Of course, we must do all this while enduring the same plagues as everyone else.*

Spiritual Needs & Chaplaincy Services, the book under review here, addresses the situation confronting health care chaplains today. We chaplains can no longer rest on the assumption that everyone appreciates and understands our work; that hospital budgets will always facilitate that work; or that, in an age in which even the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations requires hospitals to provide it with strong evidence of high-quality spiritual care, we chaplains will be in place to provide that evidence. To state it another way: We chaplains have a story to tell — but the chaplaincy story is not the only story out there, even concerning spiritual matters. If we don't reclaim our story and tell it in ways that demonstrate its effectiveness, we may soon be out the door. Our future, incidentally, seems no less threatened in religiously affiliated hospitals than in secular ones.

The authors of this book provide an invaluable service for all of us in chaplaincy and in health care administration. They give us tools and a rationale with which we can address these core questions:

  • What qualifies us to do this work?
  • Who defines our work and workplace?
  • How do we best provide spiritual care in the workplace?
  • How do we determine if our care is effective in meeting the needs of patients, staff, and the workplace as a whole?
  • What do we do with our data? How do we tell our story? What is our story?

Spiritual Needs & Chaplaincy Services is a tool, but one that comes with a promise from its authors to work with you, the pastoral care reader, to apply the gifts of this study to your work, so that you can in turn be the “gifts” you were called and trained to be. How do you track the nature of a chaplain's visit? What are the key spiritual care factors/stressors in life and how do you identify them? How do you identify spiritual care interventions within the context of faith, hope, and belief systems, as determined by the patient?

Yes, this book offers more work, even though you chaplains already have too much to do and too few “troops” to help you do it. However, Spiritual Needs & Chaplaincy Services will enable you to look clearly at what you do, how you do it, and how you can make your work more effective — and will do so at a time when your presence and ministry are needed more than ever.

Rev. Richard B. Gilbert, DMin, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Services
Sherman Health Systems and
Executive Director
The World Pastoral Care Center
Elgin, IL


Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Book Review - Spiritual Needs and Chaplaincy Services - A National Empirical Study on Chaplaincy Encounters

Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.