ER Trauma Chaplaincy

Luis Manuel Torres, Chaplain

In recent years we have seen the chaplaincy in the Emergency Room (ER) at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center be effective as well as rewarding and challenging. Through a grant from the Doheny Foundation St. Camillus has been instrumental in providing such a healing ministry of pastoral presence.

As the ER-Trauma Chaplain, I have experienced, first hand, this ministry in action. One case in particular that impacted my ministry was a horrific accident in which multiple cars were involved and patients were flown in from the site of the accident. As I discussed the details with the assigned social worker, Fran, patients began to arrive at ER. A woman, while driving to see her mother, was hit by a drunk driver and she and her small family were severely hurt. As each patient was taken to the bay area of the ER, the assigned ER Trauma Team attempted to stabilize them and, as they were providing care to the mother, she went into cardiac arrest. Even though many attempts were made to revive the patient she died.

As the social worker attempted to obtain the necessary personal information in order to call the next of kin, I turned to the woman’s teenage daughter. Knowing that something had gone wrong and that her mother had not survived, she became emotionally agitated and began to cry uncontrollably. I stayed with her while members of the ER team prepared for other family members to arrive.

When the family arrived the woman’s body was taken to the Family Viewing Room.  I attempted at that time to provide emotional and spiritual support to them as they received the news of the woman’s death. A flurry of emotions and reactions were evident as they attempted to come to terms with what had happened and most all what is going to happen to her two young daughters.

I conducted the Catholic Rituals of Commending the Soul and Blessing of the body, and despite this unforeseen tragedy, the family appeared to be calm, collected and most of all appreciative of the chaplain’s intervention.

What was made evident during this event was that the Chaplain’s intervention during this critical moment, the respect of the family’s spiritual traditions and rituals made this grief more bearable.  The blessings of our chaplains in the ER has been appreciated and welcomed by all those involved.  Chaplaincy is not a job, instead it is a ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to foster human dignity by honoring the spiritual journey in the midst of these fragile times.