Chaplains: Unsung heroes of Ebola prevention efforts

Hospital chaplains' efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola have gone largely ignored in the frenzy over the deadly virus, according to Religion and Politics.

Chaplains were a key component of the healthcare team in the five American facilities that treated Ebola patients thus far, according to the article, providing a vital service by helping those patients with issues such as anxiety and the loneliness resulting from medical isolation, as well as helping to protect their privacy.

Public fear about Ebola, much of it overblown, has been a major challenge for chaplains, Rev. Joyce Miller, who works as a chaplain at Nebraska Medical Center, told the publication. "I've been in chaplaincy long enough to know that I have gone through outbreaks of HIV/AIDS, influenza, RSV, and all kinds of stuff that has scared people," she said. "It's scary stuff, but the biggest danger is our fear and the best way to deal with that is education. So, yes, this is another health crisis, but it's what we do."

Ministering to patients with Ebola is not much different from other patients, said John M. Pollack, chief of the spiritual care department at the National Institute of Health Clinical Center in Maryland, which treated Nina Pham, one of two nurses who contracted the virus as the result of treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the U.S. He later died. "I think largely the greatest spiritual issues we encounter here are loneliness and despair. And those are universal questions that come with a rupture in health," he said. "This is a different disease than we were used to seeing, but the spiritual issues are very much the same."

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, the first facility to treat Ebola patients, invited chaplains to participate in leadership meetings, which indicates increased acceptance of the integrative healthcare model, in which mental and emotional health are prioties along with medical treatment, according to Rev. George Grant, who oversees spiritual health within the Emory network.

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