Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hospice Chaplain's Role: 'They Just Want Me to Listen'; Powell Has Non-Judgmental Job, Is Also a Church Pastor

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hospice Chaplain's Role: 'They Just Want Me to Listen'; Powell Has Non-Judgmental Job, Is Also a Church Pastor

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

The people whom the Rev. Stavius L.L. Powell counsels as a Haven Hospice chaplain rarely want to talk about death.

"At this stage people like to talk about life. They don't necessarily want me to tell them what to do," he said. "They just want me to listen."

Powell, who also is full-time pastor at Philippi Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, previously was a chaplain at Baptist Medical Center downtown. He recently joined Gainesville-based Haven Hospice to serve the Jacksonville area.

At Baptist the people he saw were expected to get well and go home.

At hospice most of them have six to 12 months to live and came to terms with death before they arrived, he said. But they may not have come to terms with their lives.

Powell recently visited with a hospice patient who had been married 55 years and was a hard worker, having long and successful careers in the military and the Postal Service. Still, the man had regrets.

He told Powell he had a lot of "ups and downs" along the way and attributed the downs to his long relationship with drinking, begun at age 14. He did not seek advice from the chaplain, just wanted to talk it out. So Powell listened.

He said he is honored to hear hospice patients' stories.

"It is a privilege to be with them at the end-of-life stage," he said.

'SPECIAL KIND OF PERSON'

At Haven Hospice, Powell, 37, is one of an 11-member chaplaincy team that serves 18 North Florida counties. Across the country there are about 6,000 hospices, and the standard calls for one chaplain for each 40 to 50 patients, according to the Association of Professional Chaplaincy.

The requirements to be a hospice chaplain vary among the 6,000 hospices nationwide, according to the Rev. Mark LaRocca-Pitts, a member of the association's board of directors and a hospice chaplain.

"One could argue - as some have - that anyone with the right heart could do this work," LaRocca-Pitts said. "For this reason, many hospices have very low requirements. They might use volunteers, or retired pastors, or people with minimal training. Medicare requires that spiritual concerns be addressed as part of overall hospice care, but they do not specify who should do this care or what qualifications they need."

Still, "best practices" are emerging among chaplains in general, he said. Many hospice chaplains are pursuing certification through the association, which includes endorsement by a recognized faith group and 2,000 hours of supervised clinical training, among other things, Pitts said.

But the key is inside the chaplain.

"Chaplains journey with people through some of their darkest places, bringing comfort and hope," Pitts said. "Some of these chaplains work in hospice because they want to journey with people in this potentially darkest and most painful of human experiences: death. …

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