The Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford Provides Care and Comfort When Patients Need it Most
Andi Frenkel had just dropped off her daughter at school when she got a call from Stanford Hospital. Her 74-year-old father had been brought to the emergency department by ambulance and he was dying. Remembering a conversation she had had with her father, she knew his wishes were that no extreme measures be taken to keep him alive and that she would have to give the “do not resuscitate” order on his behalf.
By the time she arrived at Stanford she was completely hysterical. “I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to follow my father’s wishes but I didn’t know enough about Jewish law, and I couldn’t stop crying.”
Then Bruce Feldstein came in. “He was exactly what I needed,” said Frenkel. “ In the midst of the saddest moment of my life, Bruce showed me grace, peace and healing.”
Chaplain Bruce Feldstein, MD, founded the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford University Medical Center in 2000. Then, approximately 750 Jewish patients were being admitted to Stanford Hospital each year, but there were no Jewish chaplains. Jewish medical ethics are complex. There are guiding principles about everything from diet and medication to the application of resuscitation machinery. Many patients and their families who experience anguish and uncertainty seek the guiding hand of someone who is fluent in Jewish tradition and spiritual care, and that is where the Jewish Chaplaincy comes in.
Flash forward a decade and the Jewish Chaplaincy now includes two chaplains – one a doctor and the other a nurse - and a team of volunteers specially trained to provide this type of Jewish spiritual care. That expertise translates into the kind of emotional support that Frenkel so valued when her father was in the hospital. “When my father was dying, Bruce was able to explain both what was happening medically to his physical body, but also the spiritual aspects of the experience,” she said. “It was incredibly comforting.”
Feldstein spent 19 years as an emergency room physician before attending the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Stanford . An adjunct clinical professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, Feldstein teaches medical students how to blend spirituality and meaning with traditional medical practice. Associate Chaplain, Rabbi D’vorah Rose, MA, RN, was a community health nurse.
“The bridges that Bruce has built between the medical students and the Spiritual Care Service have been ground-breaking, and it has become an enriching experience for all of us,” said George Fitzgerald, Director of Spiritual Care Services at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
The mission of the program is to provide spiritual care, strengthen the community, and educate people on the healing role of spirituality and religion. The Jewish Chaplaincy serves the entire medical center, supporting both adult patients and families at Stanford Hospital and children and their families at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
The Jewish Chaplaincy also connects patients and their families with Guest Services and social services in the hospital, and with Jewish community resources, including synagogues, the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center and Jewish Family and Children’s Services. The chaplains and program volunteers provide spiritual comfort and guidance for patients and families of all backgrounds, and services are offered in Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and French. Shabbat observance and holiday celebrations take place both privately in patient rooms as well as part of a community celebration at the Stanford Hospital atrium. Special accommodations are made for patients who keep kosher or who avoid use of electricity on the Sabbath.
“It is a powerful force to bring spirituality and meaning into health care”, says Feldstein. “Technology is fantastic and dominating but we can’t forget the power of love and compassion. That is a kind of medicine that doesn’t come in an IV. It is my hope that the lessons learned from our program will become a part of the landscape of everyday health care. ”
While the availability of Jewish chaplains or rabbis at some hospitals is not uncommon, Stanford Hospital’s Jewish Chaplaincy program has two on-site chaplains and many Jewish volunteers. Though the Jewish Chaplaincy is located in the hospital, it is funded by donations from individuals and community organizations. Feldstein’s success in getting recognition and awards for the program, including an article he authored in 2001 in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association), titled “Toward Meaning,” has led to an invitation by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains to assist with developing standards for spiritual care in Israel.
An Anniversary celebration took place on Sunday, May 23. The event honored the accomplishments of the Jewish Chaplaincy and thanked all those in the community that have supported the program. Speakers at the event included advisory board member Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Linda Klein, a program volunteer, Rabbi Mychal Copeland of Stanford Hillel and Jill Stein, whose daughter was a patient at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. For more information, please visit the Jewish Chaplaincy.
The Jewish Chaplaincy is a part of Stanford Hospital & Clinics Spiritual Care Services, which includes on-call chaplains and spiritual support and assistance for people of all faiths and traditions.
About Stanford Health Care
Stanford Health Care (SHC) seeks to heal humanity through science and compassion one patient at a time, through its commitment to care, educate, and discover. Across its health system of inpatient care, outpatient health centers, medical groups, health plan offerings, care navigation and virtual care services, Stanford Health Care provides patients with the very best in health and care through its unique leading edge and coordinated care approach.
Stanford Health Care is widely recognized for delivering the highest levels of care and compassion, while also discovering breakthroughs for treating cancer, heart disease, brain disorders, primary care issues, and many other conditions. Stanford Health Care and its Stanford Hospital, along with Stanford Children’s Health and the Stanford University School of Medicine, are committed to delivering Stanford Medicine excellence to each and every patient and family served.
For more information, visit: www.stanfordhealthcare.org