Local chaplains offer hope during pandemic


When you’re sick in the hospital, you depend on visits from your family and pastor. But Covid-19 has put a stop to those visits. Standing in the gap are hospital chaplains who shoulder a tremendous responsibility.

News 3’s Phil Scoggins visited with some of the chaplains at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare for a peak into their world during this pandemic.

Pat Ingram is the Chief of Chaplains at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus. She and her team have a heart after God, and a heart for patients and their families who have been separated at the hospital doors by the protocols of Covid.

In looking back over the past year, Ingram reflects, “We have been wired to reach out and touch someone, to give a hug, to wipe a tear. In this time of Covid we can’t do that.”

Walter Phillips, one of the chaplains at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare, says one of the major obstacles they have to face is fear. “Even as chaplains we’re just as human as the person that’s in that bed, and yet we’ve been called to keep walking down that same fearful road…but keep walking. Because in the process of walking, in the process of moving forward something miraculous is taking place. People find themselves knowing that I’m hurt, but I’m not alone. I’m worried, but I’m not alone. I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but I’ve got somebody to talk to.”

Talking with family is always good medicine for patients, and the chaplains are happy to make that happen. Chaplain Rhonda Daniels recalls, “There are times when I’ve taken my cell phone and gotten permission to Facetime the families and their loved ones so that they’ll be able to see them and talk with them.”

One of the loneliest places at the hospital is in the parking lot where family members wait for results. The chaplains minister there, too. “If there’s a question that they have while sitting in the car, we try to go get the answer and then come back with the answer,” says Phillips.

While the hospital staff is tending to their patients’ physical needs, who’s there to offer spiritual comfort when pastors and priests can’t come in? Chaplain Ingram’s answer is clear. “Pastors understand that we are their arms and legs and ears and prayers. And they will call the hospital and say, hey, I’ve got a parishioner here. Please go and see them. Tell them their Sunday School class said hello. Tell them that we love them. That happens all day long.”

But the chaplains don’t just focus on the patients. Ingram explains, “We do more staff care than ever. That means when we are rounding and seeing patients, the additional part of that is slowing down to speak to the staff, to have prayer with the staff if they’re asking us to.”

Buddy Cooper retired from the ministry and had just joined the chaplain staff at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare when Covid hit. There are times when he needs a listening ear. Cooper admits, “You come back often to our chaplains’ office and you say, I just need to talk a minute. And they (other chaplains) are faithful to be a chaplain to you because you have poured yourself out.”

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