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End-of-life spiritual care at a VA medical center: chaplains' perspectives
Palliative and Supportive Care (2012)
  • Bei-Hung Chang, Boston University
  • Nathan R. Stein, VA Boston Healthcare System
  • Kelly Trevino, Harvard Medical School
  • Max Stewart, VA Boston Healthcare System
  • Ann Hendricks, VA Boston Healthcare System
  • Lara M. Skarf, VA Boston Healthcare System
OBJECTIVE: Spiritual care is an essential component of quality palliative care. Recognizing the importance, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mandates the inclusion of chaplains in a palliative care consult team (PCCT). The purpose of this study is to explain the process and content of spiritual care provided in a VA Medical Center from chaplains' perspectives.

METHOD: Five Christian chaplains who provide care to patients at end of life were interviewed. Each interview was recorded and transcribed. Analysis based on the grounded theory was used to identify themes from each interview question.

RESULTS: The PCCT in this study appeared to have a strong referral and communication system in which every palliative care patient was seen by a chaplain and the care plan was discussed with an interdisciplinary team. Chaplains reported providing a range of services, which addressed religious, spiritual, emotional, family, and illness concerns. Chaplains were aware of the unique spiritual needs of veterans, including working through guilt for killing in war and requiring forgiveness. Chaplains' ideas for improvement of spiritual care services included increasing time to provide care, providing bereavement care and support to families, and adding chaplains with different religious backgrounds. Chaplains reported how their own spirituality influenced the care they provided.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: Spiritual care in the VA can include a range of services and should consider the unique needs of the veteran population. Future studies can build upon our findings from chaplains to learn about the perspectives of patients, family, and other healthcare providers of spiritual care. This information would allow identification of strengths of current spiritual care practices and areas for care improvement, and ultimately could improve the well-being of patients at the end of life.
Publication Date
December, 2012
Citation Information
Chang BH, Stein NR, Trevino K, Stewart M, Hendricks A, Skarf LM. End-of-life spiritual care at a VA medical center: chaplains' perspectives. Palliat Support Care. 2012 Dec;10(4):273-8. doi: 10.1017/S1478951511001003. PubMed PMID: 22612863.