rush university medical center

Hospital Chaplain Uses Army Veteran Experiences To Help Nurses During Pandemic

Rush University Medical Center is trying to help frontline workers heal from pandemic trauma.

NBC Universal, Inc.

A local hospital chaplain is stepping up to help nurses during this relentless “pandemic war” by using the coping skills he’s learned as a U.S. Army veteran.

After months of listening to nurses describe the trauma they’re experiencing on daily 12-hour shifts, Mark Schimmelpfennig realized the need to teach these skills to frontline workers.

“That hurt, that emptiness, that weight you might be feeling that is causing some guilt, some shame; there is a cumulative effect of what you see, what you do and what you may have seen and didn’t do anything about,” he said.

The minister explained to NBC 5 that the trauma isn’t just affecting their mental state, but their physical health too.

“Going day after day after day, putting on that protective equipment… it’s like armor,” said Schimmelpfennig.

In June 2021, the “Growing Forward” pilot program was born. It teaches nurses like Allan Gonzalez-Caracheo and Elise Deleon how to cope with trauma using mindfulness, art, and even yoga.

“You discharge one patient, five minutes later, you get another patient,” said Gonzalez-Caracheo. “I feel like they helped me to express myself and release all the emotions I had; and just having someone to lean your head on their shoulder.”

“It’s kind of strange that we can relate to a veteran when we’re in this position, but we are on the frontline,” added Deleon. “It’s been helpful to have someone available to us to speak.”

Nurses in the program go to small group counseling sessions with mental health experts and counselors. The pilot program is a collaborative effort with different departments at Rush University Medical Center where Schimmelpfennig says he works on “spiritual healing.”

“People were able to own their experiences [and] normalize their experiences,” he said. “One of the biggest takeaways was that they could look at each other, all of these nurses that were in the room with us, and know that they weren’t alone.”

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