Roanoke hospital chaplains relying on technology for spiritual care during pandemic; taking extra steps to manage their own mental health


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Do you know anyone who has contracted the coronavirus and had to be hospitalized?

Many times they may be looking for comfort and encouragement to beat the virus. People who are hired to provide that spiritual support are finding creative ways to be effective during the pandemic.

Chaplains at Roanoke Memorial Hospital rely on technology to remain connected to patients, especially at a time when they cannot be in the same room with those who are battling COVID-19.

Andrew Tressler, one of eight full-time chaplains at the hospital, is utilizing forums like FaceTime and Google Hangout to counsel patients sick with the coronavirus and other illnesses, as well as to communicate with their families.

When the chaplains meet with patients battling other sicknesses, they must wear face coverings, gloves, gowns, and any other appropriate personal protective equipment.

According to Tressler, he offers encouragement to whomever requests it, regardless of their religious backgrounds. He says he meets them wherever they are emotionally.

“I come from a philosophy where people are really good at naming what they need when they need it,” Tressler said, who has been a Chaplain at Roanoke Memorial Hospital for more than three years. “As long as you’re willing to ask and actually act on when people speak up. They’re okay with me being different and just being present and helping them make sense of their reality at that moment.”

Tressler says he hopes the program can expand its reach with technology and stretch beyond that hospital. That expansion may include to providing services in outpatient clinics and rural hosptials.

Tressler’s average visits with patients last between 30 and 45 minutes, he says.

The eight chaplains also meet with those on the frontlines in the hospital, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

They started a ministry in in October 2019 called “Tea for the Soul.” Once a week, the chaplains serve each unit in the hospital with cups of hot tea to drink and hot lavender towels for them to put on their faces to relieve stress.

“They may have had two or three deaths on one shift or they were short staffed,” said Richard Brown, the director of chaplaincy at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. “Just a variety of things that were creating tension and fatigue in that unit. Take those things and hand them out. You’d think we were giving someone a million dollars.”

According to Brown, chaplains also provide counseling to hospital workers if they would like it. He says that is important specially if they need to talk about things affecting their mental health while working to save lives.

However, patients are not the only ones who may need spiritual care. Some of the chaplains themselves get that same help as ways to manage their own mental health.

Tressler says he meets with a counselor so he can talk about the things he sees and experiences every day.

He has provided spiritual care to patients with COVID-19 who ended up passing away. Tressler says he also has to comfort families as they grieve the loss of their loved ones.

When he is not working, he speaks with a counselor consistently and relies on his faith-based group and his wife, who Tressler says has been one of his strongest supporters. He also says he rock climbs, exercises, and spends a lot of time outdoors to relieve stress.

According to Tressler, he compartmentalizes his feelings and emotions, but does not shy away from seeking help when he knows it is needed.

“We can go from a death in one room to a celebration in another and a discharge in someone getting to go home,” Tressler said of the wide range of emotions. “There are different needs that still need to be met. Self care is huge in that and I think for me in seeing someone professionally to sit down and help process that.”

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