Christmas comes to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

Sandra ClarkOur Town Health

Christmas morning. Family time as excited kids show new presents to grandparents and random aunts and uncles. My dad always cooked a big breakfast with three meats – country ham, sausage and pork tenderloin – and each meat had its own bowl of gravy. You might say we went “whole hog.”

But how about holidays in the hospital?

Patients and the staff to care for them don’t get the day off. Yet this Christmas morning is not an ordinary day. Randy Tingle, an ordained Methodist minister, coordinates the chaplains at Fort Sanders. “We’re here 24-7-365,” he says. “We’re available at all times.”

On holidays (and most weekends), quietness settles on the wards and a unique team spirit emerges. “It’s less a business and more like a family. You can feel the spirit change,” he says. “It’s like how a community comes together after a flood or tornado. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together. … here with our hospital family.”

Tingle and his team counseled medical center staff as well as patients and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Are things back to normal?

“After a couple of hard years, we’ve found a new rhythm and a new normal,” he says. “We are a changed industry.”

Tingle personally met with or ministered to 130 hospital patients or employees that passed away as a result of Covid-19. The medical center rhythm was disrupted. The volunteer program was put on hold for two months, and then volunteers returned on restricted duty for another two months. Hospital personnel were masked. Families communicated with patients electronically rather than in person. There is an “emotional healing piece” following this sort of disruption.

Tingle’s team includes volunteers called Stephen Ministers. These are volunteers who undergo 50 hours of rigorous training that covers topics like counseling, confidentiality, mental health resources awareness, grief, depression and how to help those who may be having thoughts of suicide.

Attrition has reduced the Stephen Ministers from 60 pre-Covid to 40 today. So, rebuilding is ongoing with this team.

Despite the challenges, Tingle calls his job “a real privilege.” He receives much more than he gives. “People are most vulnerable during crisis and also most open to personal growth. It is a blessing to be a part of this sacred time in their lives!”

For more information on chaplaincy services at Fort Sanders Regional, visit this link or call 865-331-1235.


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