Emily Viverette: This is the FaithHealth Learning Forum Podcast, a podcast series designed to offer insights into the vision of FaithHealthNC, a dynamic partnership between faith communities, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and other health care providers focused on improving health. I am Emily Viverette, Director of FaithHealth Chaplaincy and Education. This particular series focuses on mining the wisdom of key leaders within the division of FaithHealth Ministries at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Today, I am pleased to be talking with Rev. Maria Teresa Jones. Maria is the manager for our chaplains for staff ministry and the Department of FaithHealth Chaplaincy and Education at our medical center. Maria is an ordained UCC minister who serves in a local Methodist church, as well as a full time board certified chaplain. She is a native of Puerto Rico, a veteran, and a former professional dancer with a passion for justice. Maria, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to talk with you in this setting. You have such a remarkable and varied background. What brought you to chaplaincy?
Maria Teresa Jones: Oh my goodness. I realized when I was in seminary that when my father was in a VA hospital, early 70s, it was his chaplain that really inspired me to really pursue this vocation. But I did not know that until my second year in seminary when we were exploring our theological worlds. I learned that, yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do. And so in seminary, while it div school, I had pastoral care with Dr. Mark Jensen, a beloved friend and colleague. I knew. The whole vision and dream was really solidify for me then.
Viverette: Well, but there is a little bit of time between the 70s and divinity school, so what took you to divinity school if it wasn’t chaplaincy to begin with.
Jones: That is a very long gap there. In 1975, I went into active duty. I was in the Army for six years. Interestingly enough, I went into the Army because I was not accepted at the Dance Theater of Harlem. My dream was to dance with DTH and I did not make two auditions. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went into the Army in 1975. I served 1975 to ’81 when I moved to North Carolina because of employment opportunities. I worked at Wake Forest University for 17 years before going into the divinity school. It was working with a student, he was going to be graduating, and it was working with him and his financial aid that I really felt the call to do the work of ministry. I really did not know what all of that meant then. And so, I had a family meeting with my with my daughters and my partner at the time and I said, “I think I need to do this.” Two weeks later, I turned in my resignation and went into div school.
Viverette: Wow. How long ago was that?
Jones: That was in 2009. I finished divinity school in 2012. My first training with CPE was student and internship in 2011.
Viverette: Yeah. And CPE is clinical pastoral education.
Jones: Clinical pastoral education.
Viverette: It’s an internship.
Jones: Exactly. I did the internship and I was like, “Yep, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” After I graduated in 2012, I enrolled in a residency.
Viverette: You did two years.
Jones: I have two years of residency in pediatrics.
Viverette: Yes. And so now a few years later, you are managing a team of a total of three people including you, but it’s specifically focused on chaplaincy for staff. I wondered if you could say a little bit about your work and your role.
Jones: Yes, actually. The position for chaplaincy for staff support is actually one of our many innovations in the medical center. This position was created in 2010. We were beginning to see that staff was experiencing a lot of compassion fatigue and suffering quite a bit. We work in a level one trauma medical center, so a lot of difficult situations that our staff was experiencing. And so as a result of that, an ethics committee got together and started researching what are some of the things that we can do to care for the staff. My predecessor and friend, Ann Charlescraft, came in from another institution, from VCU, and began to develop this chaplaincy support program. She stayed in the position a couple of years and I finished my residency. From there I went to the cancer center for six months. Three years after Anne had developed this beautiful program, she decided to move back home.
I interviewed for the position and it was a very intense interview. I was offered the position. This work, it’s about really caring and providing support to the healers of the medical center, the heartbeat of the institution. And now almost four years later since I have been in this role, the position has changed. It has evolved quite dramatically. The needs are greater, I think. One of the main functions of the role is the work through the Employee Emergency Fund that has grown dramatically, and that’s financial support to our staff, and in addition to a lot of education, educating across the Winston-Salem campus and the clinics on day issues of compassion fatigue, and resilience, and moral distress, and providing tools and skills to the staff to be able to decompress. To be able to take that sacred pause and care for themselves in a way that will allow them to continue to do the work, the sacred work of caring for the most vulnerable.
One particular area of interest that I have noticed is in the past year or so, it’s that due to the opioid crises, employees are at the bedside experiencing some more challenging situations, like a lot of aggression. That’s requiring more presence, more care, more decompressing, more work on resilience, and taking that sacred pause to honor their humanity and recharge. Reset, recharge and resume is what I call it.
Viverette: Well, it’s really remarkable work. There are other institutions that do a lot of staff care. I don’t know that we run across anyone who has teams kind of fully developed just for staff ministry. And of course I know that also means you’re out on the floor some seeing patients from time to time as things come up. I’m wondering, not every spiritual care department or chaplaincy department kind of manages an E for an Employee Emergency Fund. Could you say a little bit more about what that fund is and how you see it as being an important part in your work as a minister in our institutions?
Jones: Oh yes, absolutely. The Employee Emergency Fund, it’s not unique to our institution. Other medical centers have similar functions. But ours, it’s all about employees caring for one another. This is a fund that was created and it is supported by the staff through donations and contributions to care for one another in the event that something happened in the employees life, a catastrophic life-altering event that we don’t plan for and it causes a financial crises. It could be something as a divorce, for example, loss of income because of divorce or separation, or the death of a loved one. And so, this beautiful work of employees caring for other, it’s about us being able to provide a little bit of relief, financial relief for our colleagues across the medical center in the event that something happens.
The beautiful thing about that, I do believe that the easy part is really providing the financial gift. It is a gift. It doesn’t get repaid back. But the beautiful thing about this work is our ability to be present, and to provide spiritual care, find all the types of support that comes out through our conversations and our assessment, needs that sometimes are too hard to even articulate for our employees. It is in that relationship and it is in that time and that space of being with our colleagues that we get to find out and peel the layers of a lot of human suffering. That to me is the work and that is the true ministry of the Employee Emergency Fund. It is supported through contributions by the employees.
Viverette: What I think is so beautiful is the relational piece of it, at least as your team, the chaplaincy team for staff support really kind of reaches out and has conversations with every single person. It’s not just submitting an application and getting a check somewhere. It’s real and conversations.
Jones: Exactly. Our relationships continue to grow and we have colleagues that share with us even years later or months later, the birth of their child, or their weddings, and really very trusting beautiful relationships that come out of this work.
Viverette: I wonder if you could, because you’re pretty much charting new territory in a lot of ways. We’ve never had a team of three before. What is your vision for this team? What are your hopes in the future?
Jones: For a long time it was always a team of one. I don’t know how my dear Ann did it. I did it for three and a half years. My vision for this work, it’s for us to continue to build capacity. As you said, we’re very fortunate to have a team of three, but my vision is to develop a stronger, more capacity in the team. I believe in this going two by two into the units, and rounding, and be present and so I would love to have a team of maybe five of us to really do the work of being out in the trenches, as I call it. We do a lot of education and we do a lot of one care, and so how to be able to do that to have the capacity, to do the one-on-one, to do the education, to do the rituals, to do the weddings, to do the memorials and all of that, that we get called to be able to offer those.
Viverette: How many employees are you ministering with?
Jones: Inside the walls, inside the Winston-Salem campus, there’s 14,000. then of course, we also cover the ambulatory world, so that’s 300 clinics, about 1,300 employees. In addition to that, we have our cornerstone, foreigners that also we provide care to when called upon.
Viverette: It’s a pretty big job.
Jones: It’s big. It is big, yes. But, but I do have a lot of partners. That was part being able to build capacity was to identify those resources and those partnerships that allow us to do this work in a way that it’s meaningful, and it is effective, and do it well.
Viverette: I think that’s really important, because I think sometimes in chaplaincy, we’ve been led to feel like we’re lone rangers and there’s a lot of the work we have to do by ourselves. Can you speak a little bit to the partnerships you’ve developed and the areas that you see as really vital and being kind of connected with as a chaplain?
Jones: Yeah, absolutely. A strong partner of our work, it’s BestHealth For Us. This is the division of the medical center that cares for the physical wellbeing of the employee. So when we talk about staff care, staff support, we approach it total person care, just like we do patients: mind, body, and spirit. BestHealth For Us, they oversee nutrition, they oversee one-on-one counseling for developing good eating habits, for example. Or we have our fitness experts that can develop exercise plans in addition to that particular work that also connected with physical therapists, so our staff get assessed on how they’re doing with their posture and their bone health, if you will. In addition to that, we have our massage therapists partners. And so, our occupational therapy partners provide all of our massage therapists. We do chair massages and table massages, especially during the nurse’s week or CNA week, we set up our office like a spot where the staff can come in and get chair massages and be assessed on posture by our physical therapist. That’s one of our partners, occupational therapy, BestHealth For Us.
Our security are our partners. When critical incidents happen, they assist us in making sure that we’re providing safe care to the staff and families. Let’s see what else we have. Our residents. Our residents are crucial partners.
Viverette: Our chaplain residents?
Jones: Our chaplain residents are crucial partners to this work because they are the hands and the feet out in the clinic, and so a lot of the referral process comes from our chaplain residents. We work together in making sure that the staff. They’re very, very connected to and very well integrated into the unit. That’s a huge benefit to this work.
Food and nutrition is a great partner. Milander Smallwood, for example in environmental services. That’s a great partnership because all of the referrals for staff care and staff support that generates from his area, we make sure that they’ll start responded to timely. Across every single division, if you will, it’s a good partnership for us.
Viverette: Well, and I do think I like you’re mentioning that the BestHealth, a lot of institutions have wellness initiatives now, and the fact that you’ve been able to partner with the folks doing our wellness initiatives does really lend to the mind, body, spirit care that we strive to uphold.
Jones: Exactly. Total person care.
Viverette: Well, and I also think you’ve mentioned in the past that HR, Human Resources, have been good partners with us in a variety of ways, and helping us negotiate policy, and how to care for people.
Jones: Yeah, and human resources have been instrumental in making sure that our work with the Employee Emergency Fund, it continues and that the policy gets revised as to employee needs change. And so, we have been able to really expand the work of the Employee Emergency Fund because of HR support to the work. Yes.
Viverette: Could you say a little bit about I know you were able to secure some funding to help provide kind of some more tangible support? Not only the Employee Emergency Fund, but also you have some grant funds you’re managing both at our institution and our other chaplain managers across the system for staff care. Could you say a little bit about what you’re doing with that?
Jones: Yeah, sure. We have this amazing partner and a person that appreciates the work of the Employee Emergency Fund, that for some years very generously has donated a very nice substantial contribution to the Employee Emergency Fund. Last fiscal year before the year ended, I thought about could we use some of those funds and dedicate them just for staff care? Because we needed to develop a model of staff care that is sustainable, a model that when we need to respond to a need, that we can do what in perpetuity and that there is a sustainable way of doing that.
And so, I reached out to this generous donor and shared with him this huge variable in the medical center, which is workplace violence. I provided him some statistics and I made an appeal, would you consider redirecting your donation to support this particular work of staff support? Without any question, he said, “Absolutely we will do that.” And so effective this new fiscal year, July of 2019, July 1, we had a very beautiful budget and funds to be able to do the work of caring. When we talk about caring for the staff, when we talk about mind, body, and spirit, we talk about spiritual psychosocial needs. And so to be able to have code carts, staff care code carts, stocked with food, and information, and tools to the rituals and blessings, that we can go out and round in the units to do ministry of presence and provide a little bit of love and care has been helpful to be able to do this because of this particular donor. Yeah.
Viverette: Yeah. That’s been really exciting to see some of this work take off in that way.
Viverette: Well, I want to switch out to just a little bit because you also are a local pastor. You work inside the medical institution too and we talk a lot about FaithHealth in our division and the connections between that. I’m really curious about how do you understand, first, I guess, your role as a chaplain in kind of the realm of FaithHealth. How does that make sense to you? Some of us see it as obvious and some of us don’t. Then two, if you were to put on your minister-in-the-community hat, how do you see that hospitals and congregations could better partner together to improve the health of the community?
Jones: That’s a very good question. To me, how I see that connection and how we can better improve those connections between faith, health, and congregational life, if you will, it’s by connections. It’s just developing, maintaining good connections between congregational life and the division of FaithHealth, which I think it’s the beauty of the division of FaithHealth anyway, because we are committed to developing connections and developing this web of relationships in the community. I think that educating congregational pastors about the work that we do, it’s really not that different from the work that the local pastor does. It’s all about the work of mercy, and love, and justice, and caring for human lives, and for the most vulnerable. That is our call. And so to continue to educate local congregations that our work is very much the same, just different location and that we have to do this work together because we need all hands on deck to do the work of caring for human lives.
And so continuing to educate, continue to develop and identify the resources in the community, and to not be threatened. Right? Not be threatened by the work that one congregation may be doing and another congregation may be doing. That the world is big enough for all of us to do this work and that the call, it’s the same for both. And so in our congregation, I’m very fortunate that my colleagues are very familiar with a work of FaithHealth. So when something is needed, they know exactly how and where to call and when. We talk about the right door, the right time, ready to be cared for, et cetera. That’s the message that needs to continue to go out. I think we’re certainly accomplishing a lot of that, at least I know of here in Winston-Salem where I serve.
Viverette: It’s a big job and you do a lot, and you talk a lot about resiliency. What feeds your soul? How do you take care of yourself and what gets you up in the morning ready to go?
Jones: So, I’m a dancer. I begin my day with this humble and deep appreciation and gratitude for my ability to move. I wake up, and I give thanks, and I turn my salsa music on, and I hear the drums and the percussion and the beat of la clave, and the rhythm, and the lyrics. It transports me to a place of deep joy and appreciation for nature, for palm trees, for the ocean, for the sun. That gives me life, and energy, and it gets me physically and spiritually and mentally ready to get my day going. I think that practices of deep gratitude for me are very grounding and life giving. And so, that intentionality of being grateful for the many blessings, and it starts with salsa music in the morning.
Viverette: Oh, to be a fly on the wall, to see that every morning.
Jones: It’s pretty interesting.
Viverette: What a gift. Because I mean, I do think whenever people hear the word chaplain in a hospital, people’s minds always go to the worst things. And that is one of the great challenges in the work that you and I have moved on over the years is that we do see terrible things, and yet continuing to find ways to maintain perspective and kind of your kind of ode to gratitude every morning is really powerful.
Jones: Yeah. I don’t think I can do anything else other than what I’m doing now. You’re absolutely right, we are in the presence of some very difficult things, but also some amazing things. And so, I’m reminded of a very beautiful mutual friend of ours that said, “Our job is to walk into tension and hold the two side by side, and we’re in the middle.” And so, I am extremely grateful for the gift of being able to do this work. It is hard and beautiful.
Viverette: Well, before we wrap up, do you have advice for folks who are looking to get into or specialize in the work that you’re doing right now? So if there’s a chaplain out there who’s interested in kind of developing a better staff support program, what advice do you have to offer?
Jones: I think it’s important that we get connected to the needs of the staff. I think it’s important that we do a very good needs assessment and that we understand the rhythms and the nuances of each clinical unit, each medical setting is very different. That we honor what it is that the staff needs and wants. And once we are able to have a clear understanding of what that is, then they become our better partners, and then we can develop ways of caring for them that are really meaningful to them and will be sustainable.
And so, connecting, and getting to know, and asking those powerful questions about what gives them meaning, what gives them life, what do they need, how can we best support them. Because they’re already experts at what they do, right? And trusting relationships, developing those trusting relationships will allow that chaplain to really connect in ways that whatever they do will be well received and appreciated.
Viverette: That’s beautiful. Because I do think often there are all sorts of these packaged resiliency programs out there, but they really do have to be tailored to the people on the ground or the boots on the ground, as you often say, and how much of chaplaincy one on one is deep listening, but also system-wide is deep listening. And your capacity to be on the units, and really pay attention, and to listen for both the strengths, what’s giving them life, and how do we support that, and the real challenges.
Jones: Exactly. Yeah.
Viverette: What a gift. Well, thank you so much. Is there anything that you’d like to share that you haven’t had a chance to share yet?
Jones: No. I think this is great. Thank you, Emily. Thank you so much.
Viverette: Thanks so much for your time today. Take care.
Jones: Thank you.