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Hospital reorders pastoral care

Community Hospital expands the chaplain staff and organizes a new grief response team.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000

NEW PORT RICHEY -- On May 31, Paul Wittenburg retired as the sole chaplain at Community Hospital of New Port Richey.

Rather than view it as an end, Gale Bauer saw it as a beginning.

As the hospital's director of volunteer and pastoral services, Bauer researched the pastoral services offered at other area hospitals and came up with a new strategy to meet the spiritual needs of the patients at Community Hospital, their families and the community.

Bauer said the first step she took was expanding the chaplain staff. She hired the Rev. Keith Griffith, the Rev. Gary Carson and the Rev. Ellen Wolf-Muhlech. Now there always is a chaplain at the hospital from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and other volunteer clergy are on call around the clock.

Bauer said the hospital is equipped for 414 patient beds. Other area hospitals -- including Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and the Morton Plant Mease Health Care hospitals in New Port Richey, Clearwater, Dunedin and East Lake -- each have one full-time chaplain.

Bauer also organized a new grief response team, which is composed of 30 Community Hospital employees and volunteers who are available 24 hours a day. They have attended hospice education grief training so they can act as a support team to families during a crisis or death.

"The key is to understand there is no perfect phrase or right words -- it's just being present and acknowledging something has happened," said Jenny Farias, who is emergency room case manager and part of the response team. "We are aware of resources in the community that can help assist patients in any immediate plans that need to be made."

The hospital on Thursday held a rededication ceremony of its newly decorated interfaith chapel. Griffith started the ceremony, emphasizing the importance of prayer and its effects on healing.

Carson read a Bible passage, the story of Jesus healing a little girl.

"This is a way for us to heal in a different way . . . in body, mind and spirit," Wolf-Muhlech said. "I see God's presence and courage in the people's eyes when we talk with them."

Carson said the medical and chaplain staffs are concerned with the patient's welfare, but their focuses are different.

"Everyone (on the medical staff) that comes into that patient's room has a job to do physically," Carson said. "We want to see how the patients are doing spiritually."

One patient at the hospital, 81-year-old George Mayer, said that the chaplains' visits encourage him and that he enjoys praying with them. Mayer, who has spent time in other hospitals, said he noticed that the chaplains at Community Hospital would stay longer for visits than chaplains elsewhere.

When Griffith first visited Mayer's room, he introduced himself as "Chaplain Griffith." But Mayer thought he said "Captain Griffith," and he gets a chuckle out of still calling him that. Which suits Griffith, who says he likes to leave his patients laughing.

But the chaplains aren't only there for the patients. Carson said that they are also available for the staff's spiritual needs. He said they plan to hold daily 15-minute prayer services in the chapel for the hospital staff and patients.

"We have to take care of the caretakers," he said.

- Angela Miller covers religion news in Pasco County. She can be reached in Dade City at (352) 521-5757, ext. 29 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is

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