“This is not the norm. This is not the norm of providing emotional and spiritual care,” said the Rev. Dr. Zorina Costello, Director of the Community Engagement Center for Spirituality and Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Costello is a chaplain who works at hospitals in the Mount Sinai medical system. She’s tasked with bringing spiritual care to patients, their families and hospital staff.
No small feat at any time. But in the middle of deadly pandemic, hospital chaplains face even greater challenges.
The dangers to patients and staff are greater, but people suffering from COVID-19 generally cannot receive any visitors.
“Now the conversations are purely about them being isolated from their families, the fear of the illness, the possibilities that they might die,” said Costello.
Instead of meeting sick people at their bedsides, she must speak to them on the phone because of the danger the virus can spread.
“The main difference is when you can’t see someone eye to eye or face to face, your voice becomes the primary conduit to which you communicate with the patient,” said Costello.
Rabbi Tamar Crystal is also exploring new ways to connect with her patients. Before the outbreak, she would visit 31 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Manhattan and Westchester County. But most nursing homes have shut their doors to all visitors, which means she can’t get inside.
"My job has changed. I can’t reach them on the group level. I talk to them on tablets. I talk to them on the phone. I talk to the families who can’t get in. We’re doing everything remotely. It’s the complete antithesis of what I did before," said Crystal.
The rabbi has had to improvise - for example, making a video of a Passover seder so it can be shared.
She’s also sending daily inspirations by e-mail, like these words of despair and hope said to be written by persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany: "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when He is silent."
Words she hopes will inspire the faithful to get through these dark days.