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The Essentials: How a hospital chaplain comforts COVID-19 patients and families

Apr 20, 2020

Clif Genge is palliative care chaplain at Rochester General Hospital.
Credit Rochester Regional Health

Clif Genge does not intubate a patient or check their vital signs. He provides another kind of lifeline at Rochester General Hospital.

Genge is a palliative care chaplain.  He gives spiritual and emotional support to seriously ill patients and their families.

If necessary, he is by their side as they transition to death.

"We're always a source of peace and hope and encouragement, but even more so now because we're doing double duty," Genge said. "We're doing our own role, but we're also passing along the messages from family, as well."

The restrictions made necessary by the pandemic mean visitors can't come to the hospital to comfort their loved ones.  If they're lucky, they can talk to them on the phone, or maybe on a video chat. 

If that's not possible, then Genge becomes the conduit.

"Even if they can't hold their loved one’s hand," he said, "I go in and hold their loved one's hand and talk to them and reassure them and pray with them if it's appropriate."

Genge recalled a recent COVID-19 patient. He described him as a relatively young man with two children and a wife at home.

"She had to put on a brave face for all the family that's calling to provide support," said Genge. "I guess I played the role of that third party that's kind of able to hear, you know, how vulnerable she could be, and afraid at certain times and kind of walk with her through it and talk to her and pray with her and provide her with encouragement and pass along messages to her husband."

It's not always easy to find the words to comfort someone who is critically ill, or to ease the minds of their friends and family. Genge said simply listening to people's fears without judgment or retort is what he learned in his training and his six years of experience as a chaplain.

He sees some positive changes since the pandemic started and wonders if there are lessons to be learned from this remarkable time. Genge said he hears coworkers thanking each other for showing up at work and sees businesses and friends and neighbors stepping up to help people.

"Why do we need a pandemic to be this supportive to each other?" he asks. "Maybe we can carry some of this kindness going forward."