Georgia Faith Community
Nurses Association


January/February Illuminations

Guiding the Mind, Body, and Spirit Throughout a Hospitalization

By Linda M. Walsh, RN, BSN, FCN


Whether for an emergency, illness, or elective surgery, the need for hospitalization can be a difficult time for a faith community member and their family.  It is essential that a faith community nurse (FCN) recognize the potential needs of the mind, body, and spirit and determine possible means of support during this time.  The FCN can be a valuable source of guidance when hospitalization becomes necessary. 

When evaluating a member’s needs prior to, during, or after hospitalization, the FCN may want to consider the following:

What are the needs of the MIND and how can the FCN meet those needs?  What possible emotional, psychological, and intellectual concerns may a member have during this time?  How might the FCN assist a member in understanding their specific health issue?  Are there questions or clarifications they may want to ask their healthcare provider or the FCN?  What concerns may they have about their discharge and recovery?  What concerns may they have for their family during this time?  Do they have financial concerns about the hospitalization?  What other related resources might be available during this time?

Helping a member understand their physical health and anticipated hospitalization can reduce these concerns.  Towards this objective, the FCN could assist them with developing a list of questions for their healthcare provider.  This could be done over the phone or in person.  Questions may include expectations of treatment and recovery.  The FCN may suggest a journal or notebook to document information, questions, concerns, and feelings.  (At the Catholic Church of St. Ann, we developed a Hospitalization Journal for this purpose.)  The member may be encouraged to take an advocate to medical appointments or the FCN may offer to attend an important appointment with them.  Following a medical appointment, there are several ways the FCN can provide assistance:

  • ·         Answer additional questions
  • ·         “Translate” medical terminology into more common language
  • ·         Clarify instructions (such as the need to hold specific medication prior to a procedure, etc.)
  • ·         Provide additional educational resources regarding the medical issue or procedure

In addition, the FCN can use widely available database software to facilitate continual follow-up with individuals and their families, easing their minds during this time.  It is also helpful to maintain a list of community resources that may assist with financial concerns. The FCN can have a vital role in helping the member understand their situation and make informed medical decisions. 

What are the needs of the BODY and how can the FCN meet those needs?  Will they or their family appreciate meals during or after the hospitalization?  Will they need transportation for post-operative appointments?  Is there a possible need for medical equipment after discharge?  Would they benefit from home care services once discharged?  What other related resources might be available during this time?

Assessing the physical needs of the member and their family is important.  They may benefit from receiving meals, transportation, or durable medical equipment.  Perhaps volunteers from the congregation may wish to offer their time to prepare and deliver meals.  Not only may these meals help after discharge, but often the family members remaining at home may appreciate meals during their loved one’s hospitalization.  In addition, a volunteer transportation ministry may assist members with the means to get to and from non-emergency medical appointments.  Such a ministry may also assist those who no longer drive so that they may visit their loved one in the hospital.  In addition, a durable medical equipment closet could be established, offering donated items such as bedside commodes, walkers, wheelchairs, and crutches to those in need.  The FCN can also be a valuable resource for information regarding local home care agencies that may assist the individual or their family with the transition from the hospital to home.     

What are the needs of the SPIRIT and how can the FCN meet those needs?  What are the member’s spiritual beliefs regarding medical issues and illness and how might these affect their medical treatment?  How may their faith needs be met at this time?  What might lift the spirits of the member?  What other related resources might be available at this time?

A successful FCN must have a deep understanding of the faith values of the specific community they serve.  However, individuals and their families may have varying beliefs or understandings within a particular faith community.  These may also vary within the nuclear family.  It is essential to assess and understand these issues, without judgement, when discussing medical procedures, and especially when having end-of-life discussions.  Perhaps documents from the faith community leaders are available for members who may have questions regarding medical ethics and their specific faith.  Having a working understanding of the faith community’s view of health and wellness issues will be beneficial when clarification is needed.  In addition, offering visits to the health care facility or member’s home, either by the clergy or the FCN, may be especially welcomed by the individual and/or their family.  Receiving communion, anointing, and prayers may bring comfort and blessings to all impacted by the hospitalization.  For this reason, it is important to have a good rapport and effective means of communication with the clergy.  Also, during this time small tokens or gifts which express the thoughts and prayers of the faith community may be appreciated.  Such spirit-lifting items may be purchased or made by volunteers of the faith community.  They may include items such as get well cards, uplifting pamphlets (such as CareNotes from Abbey Press), prayer cards, prayer blankets or shawls, a book of prayers, or other religious items (such as rosaries, crosses, etc.).  Knowing that their name is lifted in daily prayer often brings great comfort to the member and their family.  In doing so, it is imperative to respect their personal preference as to how public they want their situation known.  Perhaps they would prefer to remain anonymous (listed by initials or first name only), or on a semi-private, limited-distribution prayer list, or with their permission, on a more public prayer list.  The FCN should always respect the member’s wishes while also providing spiritual support.

At the Catholic Church of St. Ann, the FCN works closely with other Pastoral Care staff (such priests, deacons, and lay persons) and numerous volunteers.  As a team, we recognize the mind, body, and spirit continuum when addressing the health and wellness needs of our faith community.  This is especially important during a stressful time like hospitalization.  Sometimes, all a member may want is someone who is empathetic and an objective listener.  At other times, a more active role may be needed.  Either way, it is a privilege to offer guidance to our faith community members whenever they may face hospitalization.        

Reprinted with permission as previously published in Perspectives – A Newsletter for Faith Community Nurses, Vol. 14, No. 4, Winter 2015. 

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