COVID-19 Beyond the Numbers: Hospital chaplains help frontline workers cope


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The stress of sick and dying patients is taking its toll on frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is another worker on the frontlines, who not only comes beside patients, but also is there to support nurses and doctors through loss, doubt and burnout.

In this edition of COVID-19 Beyond the Numbers, we look at the important role of hospital chaplains during the pandemic.

Avera ICU nurse Abby Hatch is getting her new N-95 mask fitted and tested. It’s just one of many new routines that medical personnel can now expect as part of the job.

“When I graduated school, I did not think I was going to be working in a pandemic for sure. So that’s always a learning curve,” ICU Nurse Abby Hatch said.

The biggest learning curve has been the severity of illness in COVID-19 patients and the high number of deaths.

“You give 100 percent in the room for 12 hours a day and I think it’s just the hardest part–you go home and you question, did you do the right thing? Did you make all the right calls? It’s emotionally draining,” Hatch said.

That’s where hospital chaplains like Brian Clausen come in. While chaplains are there for patients and their families, they also are vital to the emotional and spiritual well-being of staff.

“There’s just more. There’s more death, There’s more patients. There’s more high-level of need, so it wears people out. There can be that caregiver fatigue,” Clausen said.

“The other day we had a really hard patient death. And one of our chaplains just took the time to pray over us as staff, Hatch said.

Avera ICU Nurse Abby Hatch talks with hospital chaplain, Brian Clausen

Hatch says empathy for the families of COVID-19 patients, who often must say goodbye over FaceTime, can take the biggest emotional toll.

“You go home and you feel just sick to your core that they weren’t there for the last moments of that person’s life–just hearing the cry of the loved one. “

Avera ICU Nurse Abby Hatch

Clausen tries to see a bigger picture in all of the suffering experienced in the ICU on a daily basis.

“This pandemic, possibly one thing God is doing through it is showing us that need is there to be there for each other,” Claussen said.

“Just allows us to keep going and remind us that life is so precious, It kind of just reminds us to accept this and that we gave everything in the moment spiritually and emotionally and then to just keep going forward,” Hatch said.

Chaplains put on PPE and attend the deaths of COVID-19 patients. The chaplain staff at Avera also rely on each other to cope with the increased number of deaths at the hospital.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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