Lutheran Medical Center's "Unsung Heroes"
Well-deserved recognition and praise are given to our physicians, nurses and other clinical staff who provide direct care for patients. However, there are countless behind-the-scenes caregivers responsible for doing the things that support patient care and keep our hospital running. And they deserve to be recognized for all they do.
From Nutrition Services and Environmental Services to Patient Access and Materials Management, these are the folks that medical facilities rely on as much as our critical care workers. They play a vital role in making sure hospital operations run smoothly while ensuring our caregivers have everything they need to provide the world-class care for which we are known. These are the “unsung heroes'' of Lutheran Medical Center, and the first two groups we're highlighting are Spiritual Care and Nutrition Services.
Spiritual Care is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Chaplains go through extensive training and professional chaplaincy requires a graduate degree in a related field as well as a clinical internship, residency, and board certification.
There are 15 members of our Spiritual Care team. Lutheran has chaplains at the hospital, in home hospice, inpatient hospice at Collier, home health, outpatient palliative care and our behavioral health center at West Pines. They are a diverse group with wide-ranging backgrounds and specialties. The team represents a total of eight languages including English, Spanish, Amharic, Oromia, Russian, German, Hebrew and Greek.
Chaplains are required to be endorsed by their faith tradition and many are also ordained clergy in their respective traditions. They represent many faith traditions and are trained to work with people with a variety of faith backgrounds. They offer a full scope of religious services and if they don’t have a particular faith represented on their team, they will coordinate with clergy or spiritual practitioners in the community to meet the patient’s needs. Religions represented include Catholic, Buddhist, Interfaith and various Protestant traditions. Sometimes, however, their work and conversations have nothing to do with religion, and instead focus on how someone makes meaning amid what is going on in their lives.
“For most chaplains, faith is a part of how we make meaning out of our lives and as we companion other people, we recognize that faith may not be a value for everyone,” said Alicia Harker, Manager of Spiritual Care at Lutheran. “We use how others make meaning as a framework for contextualizing our work with them, whether it’s faith, family, nature or something else that has meaning to them. We want to give people a safe space to talk and feel. A big portion of our work involves serving as a non-anxious presence. No one has to be alone.”
The Spiritual Care team responds to all alerts including stroke, cardiac, resuscitation, fetal loss, full trauma team activations and deaths. Alongside nursing, they facilitate the decedent care process and work with the deceased person’s family to help them understand what their next steps are, choose a mortuary, and work with Donor Alliance and other tissue donation organizations. Chaplains help families begin to navigate grief and mourning and provide bereavement resources.
They also serve as a liaison between the medical team and the family and help interpret what i
’s happening in layman's terms. They provide a safe space where people can share their emotions and thoughts. They visit patients who request care and respond to orders from providers who think the patient could benefit from their services. Last month, Spiritual Care had more than 900 charted visits.
“We show up during most people’s worst days to help them through it,” Alicia said. “We provide staff with emotional debriefings after traumatic events. We prioritize the care of our caregivers. Our nurses, doctors and ancillary staff who are doing the frontline work are the heartbeat of what happens here. The more we can do to support them, the better it is for everyone. The last couple of years have been rough and there have been a lot of not-so-great days in healthcare. We want to be there to support them during those times, and to celebrate the great days.”
Alicia joined the Lutheran family one year ago and explained that it gave her an opportunity to implement some of the things she’d wanted to be involved in for the past 20 years. “I fully believe that spiritual care should not be a silo, and instead should be fully integrated into everything a hospital does. We’re not pushing faith on people, but we are a sense of support for our caregivers, patients and their families. My team embraced this integrated philosophy, and they did so with joy.”
During the height of the pandemic, a lot of the work the Spiritual Care team did took place over the phone and video, so they had to learn how to integrate a lot of new technology into their daily practice. There was also a shift in how healthcare workers were viewed and how they were being treated so the team shifted their focus to do everything they could to support them during the tougher times.
“My passion is caregiver wellness and everyone on the team brings something different to the table,” Alicia said. “Each member of the team is unique. Cultivating each person’s gifts for this work and helping them find their niche within our organization is very special to me. Not only do the chaplains feel like they’re flourishing here, but the things that they are best at are truly blessing our organization.”
To further celebrate these amazing caregivers, this week is Spiritual Care Week. Oct. 23-29 Is a time to recognize the spiritual caregivers and the ministry which the caregivers provide. This year's theme is ‘Relevant and Responsive in Times of Crises’ and we are pleased to shine a light on this outstanding group of people.
In 2021, Nutrition Services prepared 173,239 meals for patients. They completed 118,511 transactions in the Café and 70,963 transactions at the coffee cart. The Service Response Center/Diet Office took 437,020 calls, and West Pines prepared 44,223 meals for behavioral health patients.
The 80-person Nutrition Services team is incredibly diverse. They’re comprised of four generations ranging in age from 20 to 70, and combined with the Environmental Services team, they represent 15 countries from all over the world. The leadership team has a combined 90 years of service at Lutheran and many have had long careers here – one at 41 years and another at 38.
Kristen Davis, MS, RD is the Director of Nutrition Services and has worked at Lutheran for 8.5 years. “I love my job and the people here,” she said. “I’m a registered dietitian so it’s important to me that we promote a healthy environment and help people heal through food.”
The Café is open from 6:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and patients can order anything from the menu from 6:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Lutheran takes patient meal orders for Lutheran, Good Samaritan and Platte Valley to provide support to the other care sites and increase cost savings.
“My team supports each other and are always willing to lend a hand when they see someone struggling,” said Kristen. “They believe in what they do. It’s not just about delivering food. It’s how we’re helping support the patients in their healing process. They engage with the patients and the patients know that they are the friendly faces they see daily. Food is something the patients look forward to and have control over.”
The team works out of four kitchens in three buildings and, in addition to the Café, they manage the coffee cart and Lue's Lounge. The Lounge is open 24/7 and has a smoothie machine, Caribou Coffee station and a refrigerated vending machine with pre-made salads and sandwiches.
Lutheran achieved Platinum Level recognition with the Colorado Healthy Hospital Compact through their efforts to offer healthy meal, beverage and snack options. Locally
“The Café is closed on the weekends, so we wanted to find an innovative way to manage our budget while still giving people creative and delicious options,” Kristen explained.
“The feedback we get from our patients and caregivers is so rewarding,” she said. “Knowing we can brighten someone’s day by bringing them a good meal makes it all worthwhile. Year-to-date patient satisfaction is in the top 30th percentile for all hospitals nationwide. Since we’ve implemented so many changes, we’re running a satisfaction survey to gain consumer feedback to help us better understand their wants so we can continue to evolve our services and meet the ever-changing environment.”
The Café rotates its menu every four weeks and some of the top-rated items are salmon, chicken fajita tacos, entrée salads and Rueben sandwiches. This fall, Nutrition Services plans to initiate quarterly chef specials for patients based on the season and what products are available.
“We feed everyone in the hospital so it’s important to provide delicious food, but ensuring our patients, staff and visitors get adequate nutrition is equally important,” Kristen said. “Our Registered Dietitians are an integral part of our team. They work directly with the care team to support our patients as nutrition is critically important to the healing process. For those patients who can’t eat on their own, they prescribe nutrition via feeding tubes or IVs. Complete nutrition assessments are completed for at-risk patients, and they work closely with the medical team to identify patients with malnutrition.”
We sometimes forget that the amazing work that our clinical teams do would not be possible without the hardworking and dedicated behind-the-scenes team members here at Lutheran. Thank you to these extraordinary people working in extraordinary times. You are heroes and we are grateful for all that you do!