Lovelace Chaplains and the Spirit of Giving for Patients and Families

Pastor Fabian will never forget the 2 a.m. call to come to Lovelace Medical Center for a patient who had just been admitted from the Emergency Department. “The family met me at the front door of the hospital,” Chaplain Fabian recalls. He followed the patient’s three daughters to the Intensive Care Unit, where their mother laid unconscious in the hospital bed. “The doctors said it was very grim.” Chaplain Fabian sat with the family and prayed until 5 a.m. He returned for the following three days, keeping a beside vigil with the patient and her daughters.

Chaplain Fabian is the Director of Chaplain Services at Lovelace Medical Center, Heart Hospital of New Mexico at Lovelace Medical Center and Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital. In this role, he oversees more than 140 interfaith volunteer chaplains who bring hope and optimism to patients and loved ones facing severe illness, a bad diagnosis or chronic medical condition. All faiths are represented, allowing patients the opportunity to meet with a chaplain of their own faith. “It addresses their spiritual needs and makes them feel more comfortable,” adds Chaplain Fabian. A few years ago the program had only 25 volunteer chaplains.

Volunteers were required to follow the same protocols, background screening and compliancy training as employees. Chaplain Fabian established a six-month training program for the volunteer chaplains to complete before they even stepped into a patient room. Volunteers checked-in and checked-out of the hospital, just as they would as an employee. He brought the same structure of the volunteer chaplain program to Lovelace 25 years ago.

With the initial volunteers, Chaplain Fabian knew they had to grow to meet the needs of the patients and families at Lovelace Medical Center. He set out on a two-year recruitment campaign, going door-to-door among local churches, calling religious leaders and organizations in Albuquerque and speaking at church gatherings. Through the outreach, the Lovelace volunteer chaplain program grew tremendously. 

“There are three things a volunteer chaplain is required to do: be a positive, compassionate presence, a 100 percent listener and a person of prayer,” adds Chaplain Fabian, who screens candidates thoroughly to find the right fit. Volunteers, he says, do not need a formal background in pastoral care or to be of the clergy. “Our volunteers, lay men and women, round on the units with these three components. I ask that they meet what they feel they can do today and be the compassionate person they are.”

A few volunteer chaplains have been with Chaplain Fabian for decades –30, 20 and 10 years. They are from all religions and come together as a team. “We are not here to judge,” says Chaplain Fabian. “We are here to meet the needs of our patients’ spirituality.” They will meet together as a group this Sunday, as part of their bi-annual all-faith gathering. It is an opportunity to minister for fellowship, meet the needs of the hospital (training and housekeeping business) and share a meal together.

Walking into the ICU that early morning, Chaplain Fabian did not know what he was about to face, but he knew why he was there – to help in the healing process of the mind, body and spirit. A few days later he remembers the look on the doctor’s face as he told the daughters, “’Your mom is doing great.’” Two months later she returned home. “I call them my three angels,” Chaplain Fabian shares of the daughters whose determination and faith led him into that hospital room.

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