SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The need for spiritual first responders in Springfield is growing. Hospital chaplains often comfort a COVID-19 patient’s family in their loved one’s final moments.

CoxHealth recently launched a program so that more chaplains could offer comfort to a COVID-19 patient’s family.

The one-year program consists of clinical and educational training. Residents spend 30 hours a week serving patients and their families. Ten hours are also dedicated to learning.

“Processing some of the things they’ve experienced like the deaths, the strokes, the traumas,” Curt McLaughlin, system director of pastoral care at CoxHealth, said. “Because this is all unchartered territory for them.”

Residents could become professional chaplains after graduation. Luckily for residents, similar programs have led to success stories.

“That’s how I came to Mercy was through the residency program and the clinical pastoral education,” Dani Helm said.

Helm says people need spiritual support in a time like this.

“There’s no formula for the pandemic and the change. And we all have a spiritual, emotional side to us.”

One moment that affected her was last week.

“Family was outside the room and the door is glass, so they were able to see the patient at the end of life, Helm said. “The nurses were geared up in the room and they had their phone, so they held the phone up to the patient’s ear at the end of life. The family was able to talk to the patient and say their goodbyes. Heart-wrenching.”

Helm says moments like that happen often. She says she also offers support to patients in isolation, who sometimes deal with mental health challenges.

Mercy allows one family member to visit each patient. However, in COVID-19 situations, visits aren’t actually in person. They usually happen over the phone or through video chats.

CoxHealth also makes accommodations for end of life situations, but McLaughlin says it’s a complicated situation. Sometimes, a family can’t be there with their loved one because of how sick they are.

“That adds immense amounts of stress on our staff because our staff is loving, caring, nurturing,” McLaughlin said. “They entered into nursing and the medical world to bring healing to people.”