Do it for love: Hospital Chaplain reflects on ministry during COVID-19

January 14, 2021

"I am not a first responder," claims Rev. Kimberly Lane-Willis Ph.D., BCC an Elder in California-Nevada appointed to serve as a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA. 

Lane-Willis considers herself and the hospital community as last responders in the work to curb COVID-19, and the public - all of us - as the true first responders.

"There are so many simple things each of us can do FIRST to help slow the spread of the virus like washing our hands, wearing our masks, social distancing and now, for those who are healthy and able, getting the vaccination," she said.   "When you come to the hospital and see us, you are already sick. We are the last responders."  She invites us to claim this vital first role that each of us has to both take care of ourselves and care for each other. 

Rooted in our Wesleyan heritage, Senior Chaplain Lane-Willis lives out our shared legacy as United Methodists to care for mind, body, and spirit. She notes that Wesley's medical treatise, Primitive Physick, was written during the plague in 18th century London.  It encouraged the prevention of disease through healthy living and offered inexpensive cures for the poor.  Now, as in the 18th century, it is the poor who bear the greatest burden during the pandemic. 

"As a United Methodist Chaplain serving in the healthcare setting it occurs to me that we are likely some of the first in our denomination to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. I received my initial vaccination this past week.  But it's also important to acknowledge that not everyone is physically able to receive it.  If we, who are able to receive it, do it for love of our neighbor, we create a community of protection around those people who are unable to receive it.  In one of the photos I am signing "I love you" because, to me, receiving this vaccination is an act of love -- something we do for each other and for our world," shared Lane-Willis. "Another photo shows me at 24 hours post-vaccination. I had some arm soreness; it felt the same as my annual flu shot. I had no other side effects. I will receive my second vaccination at the end of this month."

In her role as Senior Chaplain, Lane-Willis provides in-person spiritual and emotional support to patients, families and staff in the Emergency Room, ICU, Acute Rehab (recovery from trauma), Neurology and COVID units.  Moving among multiple units over the course of a shift and weekly on-calls, Lane-Willis realizes she has the potential to act as a vector -- potentially moving the virus between units -- as she moves throughout the hospital.  Along with scrupulous use of PPE (personal protective equipment), receiving the vaccination minimizes this risk and provides an additional layer of protection for both Lane-Willis and the broader healthcare community.

"At last count there were 10 ICU beds available in Sonoma County and we have yet to experience the full impact of the Christmas and New Year's Eve surges. After almost a year of providing care during COVID, healthcare workers are understandably tired but we also remain steadfastly committed to providing excellent care for our community.  By taking your role as a FIRST responder seriously you can choose to help us help you.  Do it for love!" said Lane-Willis.