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Thursday, June 19, 2008

A National Look at Hospital Chaplains

Whether or not a hospital has a chaplain tends to depend on things like hospital size, location, and religious affiliation, according to a new study out of Brandeis University. The study, published in this month's Southern Medical Journal, looked at national data collected between 1993 and 2003. It found that between 54 and 64 percent of hospitals had chaplains, and those numbers didn't change over the decade. Smaller and rural hospitals were less likely to have chaplaincy services than were larger and urban hospitals. Church-operated hospitals were much more likely to have chaplains, which should come as no surprise—but these hospitals were more likely to drop chaplaincy services than to add them. Nonprofit hospitals were more likely to add these services than were investor-owned hospitals.
During the years the study was conducted, The Joint Commission, which accredits healthcare organizations, changed its guidelines to make it clear that hospitalized patients have a right to religious and spiritual services. "But these these guidelines do not seem to influence whether or not hospitals have chaplains," Wendy Cadge, a sociologist and the study's lead author, said in a press release.
What's possible, however, say the researchers, is that the guideline weren't meant to prompt changes in hospital chaplaincy services as much as they were "largely symbolic, reflecting changes already being made in hospitals." But if the number of chaplains aren't increasing, what accounts for the increased attention to religion and spirituality in the hospitals? "Physicians and nurses currently occupy some of the most prominent places in related medical and societal discourse about religion/spirituality," the researchers write, "and are contributing to broader trends in medicine around spiritual and ethical concerns." —Heather Wax