Editor's note: The following feature is courtesy of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Volunteer Chaplain V. Raja Bandaru fondly recalls one particular patient breakthrough that stays with him as a constant reminder of the powerful impact of his support in the care of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) patients.
A nurse invited Bandaru, who volunteers about six hours each week at RWJUH to provide support specifically to parents and family members of patients and to elderly patients of the Hindu faith, to meet with an 80-year-old Hindu man with whom the patient’s family and hospital staff had difficulty communicating about the need for medical care.
Bandaru visited the patient’s room. He immediately took notice of a few personal pictures at the patient’s bedside.
“I extended the traditional Indian greeting, ‘Namaste,’ and, though we didn’t speak the exact same Indian language, I asked about the house and the persons in the photos,” Bandaru recalls.
The connection occurred almost immediately. “Twenty minutes later, this patient was laughing. He was animated. We talked for an hour. I prayed with him. The nurse said I made his day and hers.”
That connection and the comfort it can bring, which is key for successful outcomes, exemplifies why RWJUH’s Pastoral Care Department established its Multi-faith Volunteer Chaplains Program two years ago. This week, the department honored its 16 volunteer chaplains at its 1st Annual Appreciation Tea.
“It means so much to be able to offer to our patients, their families and hospital staff this resource,” says RWJUH’s Pastoral Care Dept. Director, the Rev. John deVelder. “Often times, people want to connect to someone that they can relate to, and we can’t thank our volunteer chaplains enough for giving their time so Robert Wood Johnson can more fully meet our patients’ and their families’ spiritual, religious and cultural needs.”
The work of the clinically-trained volunteer chaplains complements that of the Pastoral Care Dept. staff chaplains, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) chaplains and resident chaplains in providing emotional and spiritual support. The volunteer chaplains also gather on a monthly basis to learn from their shared experiences and to learn ways to improve their skills, as well as gain information from didactics.
The following volunteer chaplains were recognized this week for their many hours of service:
- (of the Muslim faith) Shamaila Aslam and Wafa S’aleh Jadalhack
- (of the Hindu faith) Dr. V. Raja Bandaru and Subhash Bhalla
- (of the Catholic traditions) Monsignor Maroun P. Asmar and Stephen Sansever
- (of the Christian traditions) Rev. Barbra Bleecker, Kate Deans, Carlton Gibson, Susan Iliff, Rev. Teresa Ko-Davis, Roosevelt Lee, Rev. Janet Reed, Rev. Sol Rivera and Lee Selden
- (of the Jewish tradition) Judy Richman.
“This is a very great help to the community to welcome us in,” Bandaru says of the multi-faith program. “The majority of the patients and families that I’ve visited are extremely happy the moment I walk in,” he adds.
Bandaru says he spends a lot of time talking mostly to parents of pediatric patients and to elderly patients. “Their faces brighten. The ice is broken. It’s an enormous blessing to be so well received and to be able to give back, he adds. “I thank Rev. deVelder, Pastoral Care and the hospital administration for extending this opportunity.”
Another volunteer chaplain, Janet Reed, said she knows all too well the importance that a chaplain’s presence can make. “Many years ago, my husband became ill. My husband was in one hospital 42 days, in another 15 days and then there was a final stay for an additional eight days before he passed. There never was a chaplain presence, which was desperately needed. That stayed with me.”
As a volunteer chaplain at RWJUH, Reed visits patients and just sits alongside them or their family members, often not saying a word other than introducing herself. “I may hold the patient’s or a family member’s hand. There are times that we pray. Some want to talk, so I listen,” she says. “I look back at my own experience and think that would have been such a blessing to me to have had that support when I needed it.”
Reed volunteers on Tuesdays, usually with women’s services. She often spends time with women at the hospital for monitoring because they’re experiencing a high risk pregnancy. “I’ve developed a rapport with these women, especially during the day when their friends and families are at work,” Reed says. “Having a chaplain come in to talk or just listen seems to mean a lot to them, and it’s great for me. I enjoy our relationships so much that I experience their highs and lows like it’s happening to a member of my own family!”
The retiree from Old Bridge adds “It is a blessing for me to spend the winter season of my life ministering to people who desire a healing presence in their time of need.”