'Prayer huddles' place focus on hospital care and compassion

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Mon, Mar 7th 2016 08:45 am
Staff Reporter
The Telemetry unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital gathers in a `prayer huddle` and takes a moment of quiet reflection in an otherwise stressful job. In the telemetry unit of a hospital, patients are often in critical condition and need constant monitoring and care. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
The Telemetry unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital gathers in a "prayer huddle" and takes a moment of quiet reflection in an otherwise stressful job. In the telemetry unit of a hospital, patients are often in critical condition and need constant monitoring and care. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

At Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, the nursing staff participates in a pilot program designed to encourage a group sense of spirituality, caring and compassion among the hospital workers. Diane Ceravolo, RN, hospital director of nursing practice, and Roger Griffiths, a chaplain at Sisters of Charity, lead nursing staff in a series of spiritual care rounds, a routine that they have dubbed "prayer huddles."

Every other Monday at the Main Street hospital and every other Thursday at the St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga, the huddles take place when Ceravolo and Griffiths walk into a ward and gather all the staff around the desk for reflection. They are known for bringing cookies, and in some instances when none of the nurses have had a chance to get anything to eat, they have left pizza.
Ceravolo said prayer huddles began as something she did at the last facility where she worked and they have been taking place at Sisters of Charity for 18 months. Although this is the first time Ceravolo has worked for a faith-based hospital, she knew Griffiths from spiritual care experiences in the past.

"Everything that happens we talk about through relationships," Ceravolo said. "So I had a relationship with Roger as somebody I would reach out to for counsel about handling a particular situation. Roger's an innovator, so we took it to corporate and asked about the ability to partner together to have leadership recognizing the staff and spiritual care tying them to the mission."

Although she is not religious, Ceravolo recognized nursing as something that is "inherently spiritual." She also stressed that other nurses and staff members might not be religious so the practice needed to be sensitive to the diversity of different faiths in terms of both the staff and patients. They were first called reflections rather than prayers.

In order to unify Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Ceravolo and Griffiths try to incorporate meditation and prayer from different faiths. They noted the reflections have included words from St. Paul, a meditation from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh and a Jewish prayer related to the word "compassion" and the name of God, Yahweh. For Super Bowl Sunday, Griffiths even incorporated football language.

"I had to throw in a little bit (of football)," Griffiths said. "I said something to the effect of, 'Even though you're facing pressure that far exceeds a Broncos defensive line on a day-to-day basis,' Catholicism doesn't have a monopoly on compassion and justice. Not even religion has a monopoly. You can draw from all sorts of different sources, and when you're focusing these nurses and physicians and reminding them of our common mission to love people, to bring healing love to them, patient satisfaction is going to improve."

Ceravolo said they have had physicians join the prayer huddles and it has been a powerful experience.

In instances where families experience grief and loss, nurses and other care providers might also experience grief when their patients die. When patients die, the staff engages in a "sacred 60 seconds" to reflect on the life that has been lost to help with the emotional impact on the care providers.

The hospital is piloting this in the labor and delivery, intensive care units and the emergency department at the St. Joseph Campus. When a patient is about to die, staff will place a white wreath on the room, use soft lighting and give the family an angel pin to put on the patient's gown. They also have blankets and special music, as well as prayer books from every religion. Many families have thanked the staff for doing this.

"I think we do a great job of supporting patients and families when there's a death," Ceravolo said. "It may not be that it was your patient, but it may be that (the deceased person) was a young man and you have a son. There are all of these connections. If one of their family members dies in the unit, you're a part of their life forever. They will never forget you."

The focus on compassion and caring also attempts to help nurses handle patients who become violent or otherwise a risk to themselves or the hospital staff. Ceravolo said heroin addiction has become a growing problem not only in Western New York, but much of the country. As a faith-based organization, Ceravolo said Sisters of Charity must be a leader in terms of compassionate care for people.

Griffiths said the focus of the prayer huddles should always be the love for patients and the staff who are busy and stressed, and it allows them to take a moment out of their schedule.

"Roger is so sincere," Ceravolo said. "He always ends by saying, 'Take care of each other,' and I love that. We have these rounds where we have panels of people, and it's an opportunity for nurses, physicians, spiritual care and PT to understand our different perspectives in coming to patient care, but understanding that the commonality should be that we all care."  

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