Spiritual health at Beckley VA Medical Center is shepherded by a dynamic duo that makes up the Chaplin Services – Chaplains Mark Iobst and Paul Bricker.
VA chaplains fill a vital role at the medical center, dedicated to providing the highest quality pastoral care to the Veterans, family members and employees. Chaplains are on call 24/7. Their mission is to provide complete religious ministry in accordance with individuals’ needs and desires. They address religious, spiritual, moral, and ethical problems of patients, ministering to newly admitted, pre- and post-operative patients, the critically ill, and the families concerned.
Chaplains Iobst and Bricker are well-known faces in the medical center, as they often mingle in different departments, making people smile or providing a listening ear.
“Sometimes I see a Veteran right before a procedure, and they’re nervous. Just talking to someone can grant them a sense of peace and not feeling alone,” said Iobst, an Air Force Veteran who has been working at the Beckley VAMC for nearly 20 years.
Both chaplains agree that their work is rewarding. Chaplain Bricker, who has been with VA since 2008, recounted being there for a widow of a hospice patient after he had passed. He followed up with phone calls to check on her.
“I just got a note the other week from a veteran who came to the services on Sunday morning before COVID. They were on Mental Health’s suicide watch list, very depressed. In the note, the Veteran voiced how much Sunday services meant to her. They are thriving now, off the list. It was an important part of her recovery,” Iobst said.
The pandemic has made the delivery of chaplain services challenging and has presented highly stressful, and often heartbreaking, situations in health care. They make ‘compassion calls’ to check on many Veterans who are isolated and without support. Many are Veterans who normally came to Adult Day Health Care, which was closed after the pandemic. The lack of in-person interaction and socializing can take a toll on an individual’s mental health.
The need for spiritual guidance has greatly increased amongst health care workers during the pandemic.
“A lot of staff request prayer – the emergency department, inpatient floor, ICU, the COVID Ward; many felt like they were at the point of a spear at the beginning of COVID-19,” Iobst said.
Bricker referred to “hallway ministry,” which is simply checking in with people as they make their rounds throughout the medical center.
“People have been afraid of COVID and burnt out. They’re fatigued. The pandemic has made many people aware of their spiritual wellbeing and own mortality,” Bricker said.
Chaplain Services does not cater to only one type of religious spiritual guidance – all religions and beliefs are respected.
“Everyone has a spirituality to them,” Iobst said, “We find value and meaning in life, in different aspects.”
While they are busy with their mission, their own self care is important. Both chaplains attest to taking care of their own mental health first, so they do not experience burnout. Iobst said you learn that early on. The two rely on one another to keep their own spirits elevated; they talk and pray together, often navigating heavy topics.
“We make a great team,” Bricker said. “People have asked me before, ‘How can you work in a hospital with so much sickness and loss?’ I replied, ‘Anyone who abandons their post in a time of peril and need, doesn’t need to be a chaplain in the first place.’”
To contact the Chaplain Services at Beckley VAMC, call 304-255-2121, ext. 4160.