Hospital chaplain practices ‘a different type of healing’ |

Hospital chaplain practices ‘a different type of healing’

Post Independent Photo/Kelley CoxPatty Harris has volunteered as chaplain at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs for nearly five years.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Patty Harris’ pager is always with her. It’s a vital link in her daily work at Valley View Hospital.

But Harris isn’t a doctor. She’s the hospital chaplain.

“It’s a different type of healing,” said Harris gently, sitting on a comfortable, worn leather couch in the hospital’s inter-faith chapel. “It’s healing of spirits, of fears, and of relationships, and families.”

A certified clinical chaplain, Harris received her four-year, post-graduate degree from the College of Clinical Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy in New York City through a long-distance learning program. She’s been with the hospital nearly five years.

Harris said more and more, the medical community is understanding the importance of offering spiritual care, and of the connection between body, mind and spirit.

“There are 176 medical schools in the United States,” she said. “Fifteen years ago, only five of those schools offered courses on spirituality. Now 75 percent of them not only offer but require those courses.”

Although Harris had previous careers before in banking ” she was the president of marketing at the former Pitkin County Bank in Aspen ” teaching and business, it’s clear she was made for her current role.

“There’s something great going on there,” said Sean Jeung, public relations coordinator at Roaring Fork Hospice, of the way Harris brings spirituality to the hospital’s patients and staff. “She is truly amazing.”

A day in the life

Harris said she tries to be at the hospital every weekday and briefly during the weekends.

On the weekdays, after receiving the daily surgery schedule, Harris speaks with case managers, shift supervisors, doctors and nurses about patients.

“I first see those patients who have specifically requested me, who are most critical, or most anxious,” she said. “I try to see each patient because no matter how minor the reason for hospitalization, the interruption in one’s life due to injury or illness frequently leads to distress.”

Harris said she listens as “the older patient who lives alone confronts having to move to a nursing home, or the woman with a mastectomy who worries about her husband still desiring her,” she said. “I listen as the man who works construction has to look for a new career at age 40, after he’s had a debilitating injury.

“Many times, people need someone to share in their tears and worries,” she said.

Her work is not just limited to patients. Harris holds monthly dinners at her home for the hospital staff to discuss the spiritual, ethical and human concerns caregivers experience.

And she makes herself available to all staff.

“We have a small hospital here,” she said, “so people feel comfortable stopping me in the halls. That’s why I’m here.”

A conscious choice to give

Harris has a schedule often as grueling as the hospital’s on-call medical staff ” but she made a conscious decision that her time at the hospital is volunteered.

Harris said the hospital has offered to pay her for her time, but she has declined.

“The hospital supports me in every way. … It’s a family decision we made together,” she said of her husband David Harris, a Glenwood Springs developer who heads up the local office of Land Title Guarantee Co. “We feel so strongly about this. It’s our way of giving back to the community.”

Spirituality, with no preaching

Harris said she found the hospital when she was looking for a medical center to do her chaplaincy internship. At the time, Valley View had a chapel, but no chaplain. With rows of hard wooden pews and the lack of a chaplain, the little chapel hadn’t been getting much use.

Harris wrote a letter to Valley View’s CEO Gary Brewer, asking if she could do her internship at the hospital.

“He was so supportive,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to have a hospital that understands the spiritual nature within each of us.”

Harris said she wants people to understand the nondenominational aspect of spirituality.

“This is a place where people can come and not be afraid that they’ll be preached to,” she said. “I have a true understanding of the many different ways all of us understand life and death.”

The hospital’s inter-faith chapel reflects Harris’ beliefs. A ceramic mezuzah, a Jewish doorpost, greets visitors at the chapel’s front door. Inside, there’s a cross, and there’s also a Star of David etched into a stained glass window.

“We don’t have a Buddhist prayer rug here, though we should,” she said with a smile. “This place is for everyone.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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