Photo: Photo Courtesy The Catholic Chaplains Corps
When members of The Woodlands-Conroe branch of the Catholic Chaplains Corps could no longer enter the local hospitals to support patients and staff due to the pandemic, they got to work on other ways they could help.
The Catholic Chaplains Corps is a program of the The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Bishop John Markovsky, of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, began the program to support the Texas Medical Center in 1967 to better serve the sacramental and spiritual needs of Catholic patients and families. The TMC was just too large for the priests to make visits to all patients.
A The Woodlands-Conroe branch was launched as a pilot program in February 2018 to provide support to those hospitalized in Montgomery County. The program is carried out in partnership with three Montgomery County Catholic churches including Sacred Heart, St. Anthony of Padua and Sts. Simon and Jude.
Pre-pandemic, trained volunteers with the Catholic Chaplains Corps were able to visit both Catholic and non-Catholic patients in the hospital, nursing home or in a home-bound situations. But COVID-19 halted the volunteers work inside the hospitals.
“They are hungry for ministry. They feel a grief because they were very active in these efforts,” said Nanette Coons, Lay Chaplain for Region One, Conroe and The Woodlands. “They had these intimate encounters with people in their hospitals rooms and nursing homes and now that’s gone.”
Coons said there are 66 trained pastoral visitors in this region who can serve the five Montgomery County hospitals that have approximately 1,600 beds.
She said the pastoral visitors wanted to know what they could do to help when they couldn’t physically enter the hospitals and nursing homes.
Two different ways of assistance emerged.
About six weeks to two months into the pandemic, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital reached out to the Catholic Chaplains Corps and asked if they could do telehealth visits with the hospital’s patients.
Janice Poinsett was a team leader in this region and she worked with a team of five pastoral-trained visitors who could call the patient in their hospital room.
They get their assignments from the hospital.
“We try to make them feel comfortable. I tell them to think of me sitting in your hospital room sitting in a chair and visiting with you,” Poinsett said.
She said the pastoral visitors call and visit with the patient and pray with them if that’s something that comes up in the conversation. She said they listen and offer spiritual support as needed.
Over the course of five days Poinsett said the team makes approximately 30 or more calls.
They are also able to make a referral to the hospital’s spiritual care department if they believe the patient needs more support.
Through visiting the patients, the volunteers have also formed relationships with the healthcare workers at the hospitals as well.
They’ve kept in touch with them during this difficult time and she said the volunteers can hear what they’re going through.
In a program modeled after a group that is supporting nursing homes, Coons is heading up efforts to put together support packages for each of the hospitals in Montgomery County with the exception of Texas Children’s Hospital where they are unable to distribute support bags.
Each hospital has had its turn and next week she plans to visit HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe with 300 support bags.
The bags have prayer cards, hand-written notes, encouragement for taking a pause for themselves during the work day, pre-packaged snack foods and little treats for the staff.
Some volunteers who sew have even created prayer caps to be distributed.
Coons welcomes donations to the project and she can be reached at [email protected] Those waiting to volunteer can also contact Coons.