The Rev. Dr. W. Jeffrey Flowers has served as a chaplain at Augusta University Health for 25 years, and is currently the Director of Pastoral Care and Counseling. In all of his years at the hospital, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented his greatest challenge.
“Our focus now has become very much in supporting the frontline caregivers,” he explained. “[COVID-19 has] created anxiety and fears, but it’s also motivated a lot of courage and hope in everyone. We have become very intentional about staff support.”
Flowers and his fellow chaplains have always seen their objective as building a spiritual connection for patients and staff, while responding to traumas when necessary. Now he sees this mission as more important than ever.
“Our patients are isolated,” he said. “Keeping them connected to family is one thing we’re working on. We are finding ways to use virtual technology and keep families in the loop about what’s going on. It can be lonely in the hospital even in the best of circumstances.”
Flowers has seen that patients diagnosed with the virus are often scared.
“It depends on what information they’re getting, from the media or elsewhere. Many of them went from being very healthy to very unhealthy in a very short time. The mere thought they may have given it to someone they love is even harder [than contracting the virus].”
Flowers laid out a threefold mission during this time: “Support the staff who are experiencing things they never thought they would, support the families that are somewhat isolated and fearful in many ways, and also being mindful of how to care for those at the end of life.”
He hopes to offer hope and a place where people can talk about what they’re feeling. That includes frontline workers who have taken long shifts during this crisis.
“We have spent a great deal of time assisting staff with the issues surrounding the impact of this on their personal lives as well as professional lives,” he said. “We use the term ‘moral distress’ to describe how working in difficult situations affects every part of your life. We have set up some formal sessions to discuss these issues, conducted many informal individual conversations as we move through the hospital, and have been doing a Wellness Wednesday Webex for our employees on stressors related to COVID-19 and health care.”
Flowers has observed the strength of health care workers for decades but has been especially impressed with what he has seen in recent weeks.
“The creativity, the passion and the courage are the things I’m seeing,” he said, pointing out that it’s quite evident AU Health’s physicians and nurses have heeded a calling to work in health care.
“This will be a landmark time for those in health care, and maybe all of us as a nation. I think we will embark on things differently.”