Hospital visits in the post-COVID era

During the height of the COVID pandemic, pastoral hospital visits halted. Family members were unable to see ailing or passing loved ones. Neither were deacons or pastors.

Post-COVID, the opportunity to make hospital calls has returned and, in some ways, changed. Here are a handful of reminders and tips for hospital visits in the post-COVID era:

1. It may not always be apparent, but pastoral visits make a difference.

In a poll of local hospital staff, each person indicated a positive view of chaplains and pastors making hospital visits. The following are things hospital staff wished hospital chaplains and pastors knew about their visits:

  • When patients are visited, their mood is completely changed. This makes the hospital worker’s shift better because “happy patients make for a happy shift.”
  • Lots of times, patients have no family. Once the pastor visits the patient, the patients often tell staff how grateful they were to have someone who cared about them.
  • Hospital staff say they wish all pastors introduced themselves to the nurse when they go into the patient’s room so they know who is there. They appreciate when the patient’s pastor comes to visit because they think it is more meaningful to the patient.
  • Pastors are a great part of the team, but if staff has a patient who is critical, they need those pastors to give space for them to do their jobs.

2. It may not always be convenient, but hospital visits are an opportunity for pastoral impact.

If you are able to make time to visit your members when they are in the hospital, do it. They may not remember the home run of a sermon you preached a year ago, but they will remember that you carved out time to visit and pray with them when they were in the hospital.

3. It may not always be possible for you to go, but there are other ways to minister.

As your church grows numerically, you will find that you are no longer able to attend every surgery or make every call, especially when surgeries or hospital stays overlap in different locations. Sending out trained leaders to make visits becomes necessary.

Training the appropriate staff members and your deacons happens best in the field when they go with you on calls. If someone makes a visit in your stead, be sure to have them express your desire as pastor to be there. Knowing you are praying and expecting an update from the leader who is making the visit is also important. Your congregants know you are pulled in many directions, but knowing you are praying and in the loop is important to them—especially when you are not personally able to come. Even phone calls and text messages can go a long way. In our digital age, an in-person visit carries the most weight, but meaningful contact can still be made in the post-COVID era through modern forms of communication when necessary.

4. It may not always be clear, but some visits are more important.

As a pastor, you are supposed to equip others and train leaders for ministry. Should any of your church leaders be in need of a hospital call, you should personally prioritize making the visit yourself.

Not every surgery is the same. Prudently prioritize which surgeries will need a pastoral visit. It is worth considering the risk of the procedure, as an outpatient mole removal will not be the same as open-heart surgery. Oftentimes, your pre-operation presence will outright be requested. Other times, it would be a warmly welcomed surprise. Both can be powerful opportunities to minister. Whenever a church member doesn’t have a spouse or family to help them, consider having a deacon or church leader visit and be ready in the waiting room. These types of situations are all important for different reasons, but a good pastor will know when to go and when to entrust member care to other gifted individuals within the church body.

5. It may not always go as planned, but here are some tips.

Your visit does not need to be very long. Seven to 10 minutes. Patients who are in the hospital need their rest. There are exceptions, and you’ll know when that is the case. Don’t get in the way of any of the medical personnel who are trying to administer medicines, communicate with a patient, etc. You may need to excuse yourself into the hallway if sensitive information is being exchanged or if a patient is trying to transition their posture while in a hospital gown.

Get a brief summary on their status. Minister to any family present. Be mindful of hospital policies on numbers of visitors, mask requirements, and “quiet hours.” You will find that your presence is normally welcomed by all hospital staff and professionals, but don’t wear that welcome out. Don’t try to become their doctor, and don’t tell the staff how to do their job. Get a simple update from the patient of what they want to share so that, as their pastor, you can pray specifically.

Pray with your church member by name. You may even hold their hand while you pray. In most cases, you won’t need to sit down. But if you do, don’t ever sit on the hospital bed. It is unprofessional. If the patient is not conscious or should not be awakened, leave a card or another imprint so they will know their pastor came by to pray and check on them. At times, you may need to check in with the nurses in order to make sure it is a good time to enter the room. They are always helpful and will gladly let the family know you came by.

Offer reassurance and speak highly of the staff and facilities. You have an opportunity to be encouraging. They need a visit from their pastor, who trusts in God. No one needs a visit from Eeyore. Can you imagine the stress and difficulty that hospital staff endured amidst the pandemic? Offer to pray for the staff and medical teams when appropriate. God will often answer your prayers for healing through their ministry of medicine.

Adam Matthews
Nolan River Road Baptist Church, Cleburne
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