Taking chaplaincy outside the hospital walls
By Les Gura
Rev. Graylin Carlton worked with homeless people for years as evening supervisor at the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission. Since becoming a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) resident with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, he’s finding a new and just-as-rewarding way to connect with the homeless.
Carlton, is pictured (on left) in the photo above offering words of support to Mark Mickens at the Samaritan Ministries shelter in Winston-Salem. He meets homeless men every Monday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the shelter, discussing their needs and whether they might be helped by the Empowerment Project. The program, part of Wake Forest Baptist Health Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, connects homeless people with services such as housing, addiction treatment, behavioral health counseling and job training.
A former church pastor, Carlton brings a strong sense of compassion to his chaplaincy work.
“I left the church because I wanted to provide pastoral care that not only helped the church, but helped the community,’’ Carlton says.
In recent years, the CPE program has been moving to provide spiritual guidance not just while people are in the hospital, but in the community setting, too. That applies to Carlton’s efforts and those of Rev. Jessica Chapman, a CPE resident assigned to the care team working with at-risk patients at the Downtown Health Plaza in Winston-Salem.
“We believe the future of health care chaplaincy includes a healthy dose of community engagement, as well as in-hospital skill, especially in interfaith work,” says Jay Foster, director of chaplaincy and clinical ministries for Wake Forest Baptist.
‘He boosts up my morale’
One recent Monday at Samaritan Ministries, Mark Mickens, 52, spoke with Carlton about his needs — especially once his 90 days of lodging ends at Samaritan. The two men chatted quietly and intensely, with Carlton asking Mickens about his health, his lifestyle choices, his faith and his application for disability. Mickens had two heart attacks in November.
Carlton talks like that with many men over the course of the evening, doing screenings to see if the person is appropriate to participate in the Empowerment Project.
Mickens appreciates Carlton, who he has known since 2012. Carlton was working at the Rescue Mission when Mickens gave up alcohol and drugs and joined the Pentecostal church. Mickens made that life change after avoiding serious injury in a car accident that left seven others with crippling wounds.
Mickens says he hopes that Carlton can eventually help him find a permanent home through the Empowerment Project. But he sees another benefit of working with Carlton.
“He boosts up my morale and my belief that there is hope somewhere,’’ Mickens says.
Carlton says he’d like to continue working with the homeless after completing his residency.
“Homeless people are still invisible to a certain extent in the United States,’’ he says. “My burden is increasing the awareness of how many people are out there. That’s what I’m passionate about.”
Creating a ‘circle of support’
As an outpatient clinic of Wake Forest Baptist Health, the Downtown Health Plaza serves a largely poor population. The Care Plus program began at the Downtown Health Plaza in 2013 to combat chronic medical problems such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Care Plus patients see a team of providers, including CPE resident Jessica Chapman (pictured in center with members of the Care Plus team).
Unlike health providers, one of her roles is to understand outside issues that may be occurring in patients’ lives that can disrupt health — such as problems with bills, transportation or family concerns.
“I listen and offer prayer, and sometimes try to connect people to resources in their own communities,’’ Chapman says. “I ask about whether they have a church home, if they attend. We want to build a good circle of support around them.’’
As part of Care Plus, she attends morning huddles with the interdisciplinary team to discuss incoming patients. She also travels with a physician, social worker or counselor to home visits. Sometimes Chapman has standing appointments with individual patients.
Chapman entered the CPE program after graduating from Wake Forest University School of Divinity in 2014. Ultimately, she would like to teach pastoral care in a divinity school, but as a resident she pursued her assignment at the Downtown Health Plaza intentionally.
“I wanted to be more involved with the FaithHealth overarching goal of being outside the walls of the hospital,’’ Chapman says. “The opportunity to be out in the community and at the intersection of faith and health is living out my passion.’’
Outside chaplain and holistic care
Jay Foster says engagement outside of the hospital is a new, important and still-evolving aspect of chaplaincy.
People coping with chronic or acute illness often ask a plaintive question: “Why is God doing this to me?”
“To have a well-trained, pastoral theologian and spiritually sensitive caregiver engage them in conversation about that is part of holistic health,’’ Foster says.
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