Eastern Maine Medical Center announced Wednesday that a decision to eliminate a paid chaplaincy program has been reversed and a full-time coordinator of chaplaincy services will be hired.
The decision last month to go to an all-volunteer chaplaincy service drew protesters outside the hospital and harsh criticism from a national chaplains’ organization.
“Since announcing this decision, members of the spiritual community, Board of Trustee members, and others have provided feedback which has been taken into consideration,” a news release issued Wednesday said. “Based on these discussions, Eastern Maine Medical Center announces the creation of a full-time trained chaplain lead position to guide the program’s continued development.”
The new hire would coordinate the 50 or so area chaplains who volunteer at the hospital. On-call chaplains, who will provide 24/7 coverage for patient requests, will receive a stipend for each call they take.
The existing Chaplain Internship Program with Grace Evangelical Seminary in Bangor will continue, the press release said.
“The Chaplain Advisory Group will be formally chartered to provide guidance to the program,” the release said, “Eastern Maine Medical Center will continue to strengthen its relationship with the spiritual community and will launch regular gatherings to provide an opportunity for us to discuss the program, review trends in requests for spiritual support, and to create an environment for continuing education.”
Previously, EMMC had one full-time chaplain, the Rev. Rex Garrett, 70, of Holden, and two part-time pastors. Garrett, who a chaplain at the hospital for more than 31 years, said last month he would retire but continue to volunteer.
The Rev. Lee Witting, 74, of Penobscot, who worked 20 hours per week, and Rev. Art Gowie, 72, of Bangor, who works 28 hours per week, were let go.
Witting took part in a small protest outside EMMC on Sept. 19 after he learned of the decision to go eliminate the paid chaplaincy program. He said then that an all-volunteer program would leave patients and their families underserved.
Efforts to reach Garrett on Thursday were unsuccessful but a member of the Chaplaincy Advisory Committee said the press release misrepresents recent discussions it members had with EMMC administrators.
About half the people EMMC is counting as volunteer chaplains are lay leaders not ordained ministers, said the Rev. James Haddix of Holden said Thursday. Haddix retired last year after serving 26 years as the pastor of All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor.
“Committee members remain in disagreement with the administrators of EMMC about the nature of chaplaincy and of their ‘still evolving’ solution to their lack of chaplaincy services for their patients and staff,” Haddix said Thursday in an email.
With its trauma center and palliative program serving patients from northern and Down East Maine as well as its large staff, EMMC “deserves a trained chaplaincy as part of the holistic approach to healing,” Haddix said Thursday in an email.
“The hospital cannot and should not try to do the work of religious groups or congregations, though the chaplaincy has always provided important and necessary links with congregations and spiritual leaders of all kinds,” Haddix said. “An outreach by EMMC to ‘the spiritual community’ would be a novelty for them, but even such an outreach cannot substitute for the hospital’s own responsibility for staff chaplains.”
While a hospital spokeswoman last month said that going to an all-volunteer program was a national trend, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Professional Chaplains said it was not the trend nationally for large trauma hospitals that serve large geographic areas as EMMC does.
“I can safely say that this is not a trend we are seeing,” the Rev. Kimberly Murman, president, said last month. “We are an organization that is well dispersed across the country with over 5,000 members. Nowhere do we know of the type of wholesale contraction described by Eastern Maine Medical Center.”