10 Tips for Hospital VisitationAugust 22, 2013
When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Shepherd, He not only described His love and affection toward humanity, He established a pattern for pastoral care. When sheep hurt, the inclination of the shepherd is to aid and assist in any way possible. A legitimate shepherd will go to any lengths to find his sheep. In the iconic parable, Jesus said the shepherd fought the elements of the rugged wilderness to find the one who strayed from the fold. Even as Christ came to minister to the weary world, the pastor is to love, care, and comfort his members during their time of need.
This certainly is not limited to hospital visitation, but it does include it.
As a young pastor I often struggled with making hospital visits, not because I didn’t want to be there, but because I really didn’t know the protocol of making my rounds. Although I took pastoral theology classes in Bible College, I soon discovered there was a big difference in passing a test on the subject and actually seeing someone in an “ICU” gown. Although this is not the strongest feature of my ministry, there are a few things I have learned over the years:
1. Respond in a Timely Fashion
We receive calls almost every week from someone who is either in the ER, having surgery, or admitted into the hospital for special care. It is best to make your visit as soon as you can. When a member has been in the hospital for weeks or days without any form of contact, it will typically lead to offense. My team tries to respond that day, sometimes that very hour if possible. Obviously we must use discretion and discernment. Some visits are more urgent than others, but the bottom line is this: respond quickly and let them know you care.
2. Enter at Your Own Risk
You never know what you are going to find. Some people will be glad you came, others, not so much. You typically see people in all their vulnerability when at the hospital. We should realize not everyone wants us to see them without make-up, combed hair, or Sunday attire. Be cautious and respectful of their feelings. Sometimes it is better to come back at a better time.
3. Bring a Small Gift
We have a Basket-Ministry at our church allotted for our members who are admitted into the hospital. It’s an inexpensive way to let the patient know you care. Also, if the patient happens to be away from the room during your visit, you can leave it there to let him or her know you stopped by. The basket contains Kleenex, hard candy, cross-word puzzles, reading material, and a few other miscellaneous items.
4. Avoid Early Mornings or Late Evenings
I try to be respectful and mindful of their rest. Most patients who are admitted need as much sleep as possible. Unless it is an emergency, stay away during those early morning hours, and avoid late-night visits. If possible, check with a family member and inquire as to the best time for visitation.
5. Don’t Set Up Camp
The patient doesn’t need to entertain you. I rarely stay over 10 minutes unless I detect the patient or family wants me to be there longer. Obviously there are some visits that require more of your time (I have spent days at the hospital with families), but for the routine visit, just a few minutes will suffice.
6. Minister to their Spirit
Everyone knows that spending a few days in the hospital will put the most optimistic person in a bad mood. We are called to nurture and care for their souls. It is essential that we inquire of their physical malady, but remember you are coming as a shepherd, not a physician. Minister to their spiritual needs. I try to never leave a room without praying with and over them. Often the patient is weary to the point where he cannot pray for himself. They need to hear their Under-shepherd pray to their Over-Shepherd. If the patient is facing a life-threatening situation, ALWAYS ask about their salvation. Even if you believe they are saved, make sure they are ready to go if their time draws near.
7. Have Discernment with Your Words
When someone is hooked up to IV’s, and getting injections, it is probably not the best time to try-out your latest joke; neither is it appropriate to give them last Sunday’s sermon notes. Don’t be intrusive. Avoid asking deeply personal questions about their health; this may cause everyone in the room, including yourself, to be uncomfortable.
8. Don’t Forget the Family
The loved ones who are surrounding the patient are often facing a difficult time- make it a practice to encourage them. Ask if they need any assistance. It does the family good to know you are interested in their needs as well.
9. Follow Up after their Dismissal
This could very well mean another visit, or it could simply mean a phone call. Times have changed. People are more private with their lives than ever before. Be sensitive to that, but not at the expense of leaving them alone. Whether through a text message, phone call, or house call, make sure you keep up with their recovery.
10. Keep their Information Confidential
It is not a good idea to immediately post their condition on Facebook. Ask their permission before you share their information with others. Let them know you can be trusted, and that you genuinely care about their health and well-being.