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Patients and Caregiver Stories

Transitioning from a Spiritual Care Department to a Center of Spiritual Health in the Community

By Teleso Satele and Bryan Ferry, ACPE Certified Educators | May 18, 2020

Like many CPE programs, Providence St. Joseph Health Southern California System for CPE moved quickly to online services and education as the reality of COVID-19 and the precautions of social distancing came into full view. Our concern was the safety of our residents, modifying our program to fit the current climate and making sure our residents felt supported and equipped to provide spiritual care during this pandemic. The transition was relatively smooth with few adjustments needed to acclimate to a more virtual CPE program.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we shifted all our class sessions to an online forum. Through Zoom, our residents are still able to participate in our regular CPE group activities as well as receive feedback and support from the CPE educator and fellow residents. In March, our clinical CPE training moved quickly to focus on learning tele-chaplaincy, a form of chaplain outreach that uses phone/video conferencing to provide spiritual care to patients, families, and caregivers. Although tele-chaplaincy is not a new concept, it was a new method of outreach to our CPE program. We drew upon Providence St. Joseph Health’s resources to help ease our transition quickly and effectively. We provided background information, research, and training exercises to give our residents’ the skills to properly provide spiritual care through tele-chaplaincy. Our curriculum changed to include training techniques on how to continue to convey empathy and compassion even when you are not physically present.

When COVID-19 restrictions first came into place, our residents transitioned to providing spiritual care solely through tele-chaplaincy. As the program moved forward and more PPE became available, we gained more and more clarity on how to structure our program during this unique time. Now our residents provide spiritual care by both tele-chaplaincy and in-person care to patients and caregivers on non-COVID-19 floors, and tele-chaplaincy to patients and caregivers on COVID-19 floors.

In addition to patient visits by way of telephone calls and in-room patient visits, our residents have participated in bereavement follow-ups after the hospital, connecting with family members, mailing grief resources, and providing virtual memorial services and virtual grief support groups. In this new context, residents are coordinating faith community donations, collecting and publishing community messages for caregivers, prayer walls, support flyers, and video messages to support caregivers.

Although our residents have transitioned well into tele-chaplaincy and virtual education, some residents reported feeling the absence of the connections that are made through physical presence. Though the transition to a virtual CPE program has been a new change, our residents have adapted well and understand the importance of practicing social distancing during this time. More importantly, our residents are learning what it means to transition from a Spiritual Care Department to a Center of Spiritual Health in the Community.
The Rev. Teleso E. Satele and Bryan Michael Ferry are ACPE Certified Educators at Providence Health Services California Center in Torrance, CA. Teleso may be contacted at Bryan may be contacted at