Nine days before Christmas hospital chaplain Randy Tingle was checking his list – twice. After all, finding anything in his office at that time of year is next to impossible. Bags full of gifts were scattered all about, making it difficult to get behind his desk inside Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.
The bags, containing gifts for children or grandchildren of the hospital’s employees, and were part of FSRMC’s annual “Angel Tree” campaign. As hospital chaplain, Tingle collects and distributes the gifts every year.
“It’s a treat and a mess every year,” he says with a smile. “I get the privilege of being the one who hands them out and organizes them coming in, but I don’t do the work of buying them. I take the angels in, not knowing how I’m going to serve them and the employees really come through. Our environmental services department did several angels, the radiology department did six angels and the doctors provided for 10 kids.”
But handing out holiday gifts isn’t the only service provided by FSRMC’s Chaplain’s Office. Tingle stays busy working with three on-call pastors and others to help attend to the spiritual needs of patients, employees and families through bedside visits, thrice-weekly worship services, daily prayer services and special seasonal services for Christmas and Easter. The Chaplain’s Office also holds a yearly memorial service for families of palliative care patients who have passed away.
Tingle’s duties also include the distribution of daily devotionals, stocking the hospital’s chapel with helpful information, keeping each patient room stocked with Gideon Bibles and working with 1,000 registered clergy from the community to help them better serve their congregants.
The 45-minute worship services Tingle holds in the hospital’s chapel twice each Wednesday and once on Sundays include devotional time, hymn singing and prayer. “What’s powerful about the services here is that you’re preaching to a specific population,” he said. “In a church, you’ve got all kinds of things going on, but when you know everybody in the room is dealing with a stroke, you can share in a little more poignant way.”
Tingle’s office serves those of any faith and can provide a rabbi, a priest, an imam, other spiritual advisor including some Spanish speaking clergy. “Our role as chaplains is a little bit more ‘clinical’ in that we meet the person where they’re at, wherever their faith walk is,” he said. “We’re there to serve them no matter the doctrine or theology is and to walk with them in that setting. For the most part, it’s trauma care, crisis care. It’s helping folks get through the heat of the moment, whatever it is that’s going on with them.”
Occasionally he’ll perform communion, but says he’s often reluctant because his parish patients might have swallowing issues. “When I first came I didn’t think about those things, and I got trained by the nurses,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve learned you have to be very careful and get permission.” He also has performed a half-dozen weddings and does one or two baptisms a year.
Between those duties and other campaigns like United Way and Covenant Health’s WeCare drive for employees in need, it’s little wonder that Tingle and his three on-call chaplains rely heavily on a small army of volunteers known as Stephen Ministers. Together they try and visit every person admitted to Fort Sanders Regional, with referrals coming from the hospital’s doctors or nursing staff, particularly in oncology, cardiology and palliative care.
“We’re at about a 90 percent rate at seeing all the admitted patients,” said Tingle, adding that he personally visits 12 to 15 patients a day, and he and his Stephen Ministers made 12,500 visits last year alone.
A third of his Stephen Ministers are former patients looking to “give back.” All have undergone 50 hours of training in pastoral care basics and developing skills such as listening to patients and understanding their own counseling techniques.
Tingle currently has about 40 Stephen Ministers on the roster, about half of which are actively giving the minimum four hours a month. Others volunteer as much as 15 hours a week. When the latest Stephen Ministry class is commissioned, he will have 10 more Stephen Ministers to help.
“Stephen Ministers are a huge, huge help,” Tingle said. “We wouldn’t be a department without them.”
Tingle says while the Stephen Ministers’ role is not counseling, they “come with a counseling spirit or compassion.” As an example, he notes that Stephen Ministers’ 30-second to two-minute visit is largely informational, telling the patients about worship times, how to contact the chaplain’s office, contacting their church family if desired, and just letting them know they’re available if the patient needs them.
“Stephen Ministers are for the folks who need a prayer, folks who need a listening ear, folks who are just going through a rough time,” Tingle said. “Any time someone’s in acute care it’s not necessarily the diagnosis that bothers them – it’s the other stuff going on in their life.”
Stephen Ministers come from all walks of life, all faith groups, “retired teachers, retired professors, actively working insurance agents, pastoral counselors, and even a former hospital chief nursing officer.” The professional nature of these folks, the intelligence of them, the gifts that they have just in terms of serving is amazing,” said Tingle.
For more information about FSRMC’s Pastoral Services, visit www.fsregional.com/pastoral-services. For more information about the Stephen Ministry opportunities, call the Chaplains’ office at (865) 331-1235.