UAB’s Pastoral Care Team Counsels Health Care Workers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Malcolm Marler is senior director of pastoral care at UAB Hospital. (Source: Drexel Rayford)

Usually, a hospital chaplain comforts patients and their families, but these days the UAB pastoral care team is spending a lot of time counseling health care workers on the front lines of COVID-19 response. Malcolm Marler is the senior director of pastoral care at UAB Hospital.

Interview Highlights:

What are most health care workers stressing over?

“I think the greatest anxiety from our employees, that I’ve heard the most about, is really them trying to help soothe and calm their own families who are, of course, hearing about this all the time as well and are afraid for their own loved ones. And, you know, it’s for a lot of good reasons.”

What are you telling health care workers to lessen their fears and comfort them during this time?

“Well, I’m not giving as much advice as I’m listening to how they’re feeling. I think all of us need to tell our own stories. And sometimes those come from different angles. For me and listening to a lot of our employees, it’s really asking them, how are they doing? And you begin to hear the stories about, well, one parent is at home working, one’s at work. And the one at home who is working is also, by the way, having two small children who are online learning for school. It’s pretty hectic, that would be the best way to say it. That’s what I hear the most, that stress can add on to whatever you’re dealing with at work as well. So it’s a complicated experience. I think that a lot of us it’s hard to get away from that stress.”

What’s been the hardest part of your job over this past month?

“The hardest part for me is not getting to touch people, to hug them, to hold their hand, to put my hand on their back. Just as an encouraging and safe way of letting people know you care about them. I’m ,by nature, a person who likes to connect with people not only emotionally and spiritually, but also physically. I miss shaking hands. I’ve been in more zoom meetings than I ever have in my entire life in the last few weeks. And I think the hardest part is being able to have the connection. And how do we find meaning in all of this and how can it not that it’s a good thing right now. But how can good come from it? How can we learn from it?”

What’s your go to prayer or scripture these days?

“There’s a benediction, which is a way of saying a closing prayer, that I wrote down several years ago. And I’ve used it for a long time. And it’s mostly a reminder about where God is in our lives. And my understanding of that, it goes something like:

May you remember that God is above you, watching over you as a good shepherd,

that God is below you, ready to lift you up in your weakest moments,

that God is behind you to give you encouragement when you want to give up and turn back.

God is in front of you, calling you forward in faith, even when you can’t see how it’s going to work out.

God is beside you holding your hand no matter what you’re going through.

But most of all, God is within you, as close as every breath you take.

And that’s, my brothers and sisters, what makes all the difference.”