A listening ear in a time of need

Yukon hospital chaplain offers spiritual care to patients, families, workers

504
Larry Guttridge, chaplain at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon, fills the gap helping patients through their spiritual journey while they are isolated in their rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

Larry Guttridge stands ready to serve the Yukon hospital’s patients, families and healthcare heroes when called upon.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the service the INTEGRIS Health chaplain provides is appreciated more than ever.

“Everybody has a story to tell, and I’m here to hear that story,” said Guttridge, who for the past five years has served as chaplain at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon. “I do more than hear. I listen.

“I provide spiritual care for people going through joys and struggles in life. In the hospital healthcare setting, that includes our patients, their families and all the caregiver staff.”

Guttridge started performing chaplain duties in 2007 at INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center and is now at four metro-area INTEGRIS Health hospitals including Baptist, Edmond and Yukon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a strain on hospitals, which have faced staffing shortages.

INTEGRIS Canadian Valley frontline healthcare workers are working extra shifts and seeing higher caseloads since the virus hit.

“Some of them here are working very long hours because the nurses are short-handed everywhere,” Guttridge related. “I’ve talked to some staff that’s worked the last eight days in a row, 12-hour shifts.”

The hospital chaplain has stepped up himself, helping with funerals, weddings and grief support groups.

Hospital patients are now isolated more than ever due to COVID safety protocols that restrict visitor access. Families are not able to come to see their loved ones, who must remain in their rooms alone while receiving care.

“Everybody has some sort of spirituality about them,” Guttridge said. “I fill the gap helping them through the spiritual journey until they can get their spiritual leaders back in here.”

Integris Canadian Valley Hospital CEO Teresa Gray

INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital President Teresa Gray said Guttridge is a valuable member of the team and provides a compassionate presence at the Yukon hospital.

“His role is unique in the sense he not only acts as our spiritual counselor, but as an advocate for our patients, families and staff,” Gray said. “Through many the complexities we deal with in healthcare, especially during these difficult times, Larry’s work is key in helping influence better decisions about care, providing hope to others and enhancing staff morale.”

Advertisement

NO ROOM AT THE INN

The hospital is at capacity with patient bed space at a premium due partially to the rise in COVID-19 cases. As Guttridge puts it, there’s “no room at the inn”.

The intensive care unit is full, and some Yukon patients must be transferred to other hospitals.

“I don’t go in every COVID room unless there’s a request,” Guttridge shared. “Most of them are fearful of the future. They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The chaplain spends his time with patients exploring their spirituality and faith system, using both prayer and scripture.

Guttridge embraces the opportunity to be that listening ear in a patient’s time of need.

“They need to actually have someone who will sit down and spend time with them,” he said.

One serious challenge during the COVID-19 crisis has been the inability of families to enter healthcare and nursing facilities to see patients who are facing death.

A major benefit of Yukon’s hospital is having first-floor ICU rooms – so family members can stand outside and see their loved ones through the window.

The chaplain especially enjoys the Yukon hospital because of its “community/family feel,” able to develop deep friendships with the dedicated staff.

A TRUE CALLING

Working as a hospital chaplain was a calling for Guttridge.

“My dad was a pastor, and I kind of followed in his footsteps,” he said.

So Guttridge attended Oklahoma Baptist University, earned a Master’s degree at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and then pastored churches in Texas and Oklahoma.

“There was a deeper calling to work in the healthcare system,” Guttridge said. “I discovered one of my deeper gifts was in pastoral care. I’ve also worked with several hospices.”

It takes about nine years of education to become a board-certified professional chaplain with INTEGRIS Health. A Master’s degree in Theology and clinical pastoral education training is required.

“INTEGRIS has a high standard for their chaplains because we deal with a lot of clinical issues, end of life and grief,” Guttridge said.

Yukon’s hospital chaplain encourages more people to have an advance healthcare directive.
This is important for COVID-19 patients who may need to be placed on a ventilator, which limits their ability to communicate their wishes.

“You can actually plan in advance how you want your care to be,” Guttridge explained.

“Every family member should have a healthcare power of attorney. You need someone you trust to work with the doctors and staff and let them know what you want and don’t want.

“Some people don’t want to end up on a ventilator.”