Caring for those who are very sick, dying or emotionally spent or broken from a traumatic event is never simple, but it is part of daily life for those involved in any ministry.
Malcolm Marler, D. Min., the new director of the Department of Pastoral Care, has spent his adult life counseling and comforting individuals and families, including in his previous position as director of the UAB Support Team Network and chaplain at The 1917 Clinic.
|Malcolm Marler (center) is the new director of the Department of Pastoral Care. “It’s something I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do — to work with a pastoral care team and provide emotional and spiritual support for people every single day.”
Marler now has the opportunity to enhance 40 years of pastoral care at UAB as the fourth director of the department, which was started by Ken Bohannon in 1969.
“It’s an awesome responsibility. It’s something I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do — to work with a pastoral care team and provide emotional and spiritual support for people every single day,” Marler says.
Marler was the one needing support recently when his son was taken to UAB Hospital via Lifesaver helicopter after a car crash near their home on Smith Lake.
“We were just like every other family here Thanksgiving week,” Marler says.
“Fortunately, our son was able to come home after a few days, and we’re thankful for that. But I was able to watch UAB nurses and surgeons and critical-care units and see what they can do and how they can make such a difference. And I got to see pastoral care from the other side.
“Even though it’s routine care for those of us who work in this field, it’s not routine to the families who are experiencing it,” he says. “It’s a good reminder that what we do really does make a difference.”
The pastoral care program is integral to patient care, visitor and staff relations, and Anthony Patterson, UAB Hospital associate vice president, says Marler will be a strong and innovative leader.
“Malcolm is known for identifying people’s needs and building programs that address issues, including access to care, overcoming stigma of disease and community building,” Patterson says.
There are seven full-time chaplains on staff at UAB Hospital, plus the director. At least one chaplain is in the hospital or on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Hospital caregivers are encouraged to contact a chaplain by paging the chaplain on call at 934-3411, or by calling the Department of Pastoral Care at 934-4254 when:
• A patient needs emotional, psychological, or spiritual support and help
• A patient or family member is struggling with issues of grief and loss
• A patient requests a better understanding of his/her relationship with God
• A patient desires prayer or spiritual counseling
• A patient’s family needs support and counsel
• Discouragement, depression, or anxiety threaten a patient’s healing
• Staff desires emotional and/or spiritual support and counsel
• Death seems imminent or has occurred
Chaplains often are called to assist the family and friends of patients in UAB Hospital, but Marler hopes more employees will use their services.
Faye Williams, the nurse manager in oncology, was approached by a staff member recently who wanted to have a local hospice company and the Department of Pastoral Care teach a continuing-education class specific to bereavement and the care of self. Two classes were held during a two-week period.
“Afterward, my staff told me this was needed and they were glad we did this,” Williams says. “They were able to cry, to talk about patients they had formed very close relationships with and lost and how that affected their lives. It was good for me. I was able to share some of my own experiences. I had another nurse send me an e-mail telling me how informative and comforting it was to have that type of offering and to know the pastoral department was here for employees as well as for the patients.”
Marler has visited many nurse managers since his appointment to gauge their thoughts on the ways in which pastoral care better can serve employees.
In their meeting, Williams told Marler that many caregivers in the hospital often don’t have time to collect their thoughts and emotions after a traumatic event. They have to move on to the next patient and continue to do their jobs.
“We deal with death every day, and we don’t always have the time to grieve, to decompress and really discuss the happenings around a particular death or even a group of deaths,” Williams says.
“What we wanted to do was bring that back to the forefront and make sure we’re providing it to the staff and our patients, and Malcolm was extremely gracious and understanding. My staff was overwhelmed with his openness, honesty and willingness to provide care for us.”
The more our employees can be comforted during difficult times, the more we can provide comfort to our patients and families. Many times you don’t know what to say or do, but the more we receive it, the more we’re able to reach back, grab those memories and share them with our patients and families.”
Marler says his department offers psychological, social and spiritual grand rounds quarterly to support employees as they offer support.
“It’s a way to educate,” Marler says. “I think what we all have to realize is that all of us can offer emotional or spiritual support at various times in our work. That makes us a more compassionate place for patients and families and improves the patient experience.”