Chaplain J. Joseph Hart, director of spiritual support services at GBMC, meets with a patient and his daughter in the Chapel.
Chaplain J. Joseph Hart, director of spiritual support services at GBMC, meets with a patient and his daughter in the Chapel.

Even in the best of circumstances, a stay in the hospital can be a lonely and often scary experience.

But not so much at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where an expansive Spiritual Support Services team and its large volunteer network allows for some 18,000 patient visits annually, providing comfort at what can be a most unsettling time.

"One of the things I don't think people realize is how isolating it can be for many patients who are in hospitals today," said Chaplain J. Joseph Hart, director of spiritual support services at GBMC. "What we strive to do is be that source of calm in a patient's inner storm. We want to provide every patient, at every time, the care we would want for our family member."

Patients and families of every faith, and those with no faith, are tended to and given the same levels of comfort and support.

"I'm not there to judge," Hart said, "I'm not there to tell a person right from wrong or to tell them what to believe. I'm there to support them according to their religious and spiritual tradition."

The Spiritual Support Services team at GBMC includes a Roman Catholic deacon who is assigned to GBMC as part of the Church of the Immaculate Conception ministry, a Baptist minister who also serves as the president of the Maryland Ecumenical Council, an Episcopal priest who is a hospital anesthesiologist, and two representatives from Bikur Cholim, a Jewish organization providing support and services to Jewish patients and families, including challah bread, grape juice and candles for Shabbat services that are often held in patients' rooms.

GBMC welcomes all faiths and offers multiple opportunities for worship. Friday prayers are held for Muslim patients and families. A Catholic service is held in the GBMC chapel every Tuesday morning, and a Protestant communion service is held every Thursday afternoon. A number of religious celebrations and seasonal services are also held throughout the year.

A recent $1 million gift from the Sykesville-based Kahlert Foundation in honor of its president Greg Kahlert's late mother, Yvonne, will benefit Spiritual Support Services and its chapel, as well as fund the addition of a second chaplain.

Meanwhile, Spiritual Support Services is broadening its presence through its Center for Spiritual Support Training, which offers training to clergy and lay leadership for ministry to the sick. The 10-week course is designed for individuals of all faith backgrounds.

Gloria Mohr is one of 70 GBMC Spiritual Support volunteers, and she does everything from delivering rosaries to patients' rooms and praying with people who have just learned of a devastating diagnosis to providing information on the various resources available, no matter what the faith. Other volunteers include pianists who perform on the hospital's grand pianos and those trained to work with therapy dogs.

"It's an honor," Mohr said of her volunteer work with Spiritual Support Services, which includes helping out at the office's front desk. "It's a very good feeling to know that you can say just a few words and yet be such a comfort."

Mohr often finds herself delivering shawls knitted by Spiritual Support's volunteer Prayer Shawl Ministry to critically and terminally ill patients in the intensive care and cancer units. Nearly 600 prayer shawls are given out annually to patients in those units.

"The beauty of the prayer shawl is they are universal and do not carry any prescribed set of beliefs. Rather, they represent the essence of human compassion and concern to our patients and families," Hart said. "We all have anxiety. We all have fear. We all have the desire to be reassured. And that's why I do what I do and love what I do."


—David Ogul, Tribune Content Solutions Writer