Official: chaplains good for us

AMS Staff

Research shows hospital chaplains boost patients’ health. But without govern-ment funding this ministry may end

The benefits of hospital chaplaincy have been revealed in research released this month. Preliminary results from surveys conducted in 150 NSW hospitals on behalf of the multi-faith Civil Chaplaincy Advisory Committee, show hospital chaplains provide numerous benefits, both economic and spiritual, to the hospitals themselves.

The research also highlights national and international studies that indicate chaplaincy has a positive benefit on patient length of stay and reliance on medication and painkillers.

Chaplains not only minister to patients and their families in times of suffering but play an important role in the support of staff during emergencies and in critical care wards where staff deal with trauma, grief and loss. “In many ways this research is ‘just what the doctor ordered’ for hospital chaplaincy,” said Canon Howard Dillon, Anglicare’s executive director.

Despite this, the bulk of the funding burden for hospital chaplains falls on the church-based organisations that provide the service to the health system. In NSW only about one-quarter of hospital chaplains receive funding support from the State government.

Anglicare receives no funding for its 16 general hospital chaplains. The organisation temporarily agreed to carry the cost of hospital chaplaincy from Sydney Diocese in 1995 and invests $1.3 million a year maintaining the ministry.

However, according to Canon Dillon, Anglicare can no longer afford to cover this cost alone. “It presents a challenge to Anglicare, the Diocese and the State government.”

For the Rev Bart Vanden Hengel, rector of Penshurst Anglican, none of this is a surprise. Mr Vanden Hengel fills in as hospital chaplain for one week each year at St George Hospital. He has experienced the enormous blessings that come from this ministry and believes that through a closer alignment to local Anglican parishes, chaplains can play a crucial role in local parish growth.

“I will never forget the mixed emotions of bringing Christ to a dying man and seeing the enormous comfort this brought to him and his family,” Mr Vanden Hengel said. “Our chaplains are at the forefront of care and quell the spiritual thirst of people who, in the face of great suffering, are yearning for the comforting hand of Jesus.

“The challenge we now face is bringing this evangelism full circle. The hospital chaplain can provide the crucial link from the bed to the pew, linking a patient with their local minister and ensuring God is part of their daily life – not just in times of ill health.”

To support hospital chaplains, call Anglicare on 13 26 22.