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Cancer center chaplain provides emotional support for patients

Uploaded: Apr 7, 2020
One of the tragic but necessary changes in the health care system has been the ban on visitors in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

That leaves loved ones isolated unless they are at the end of life. It’s the same policy at Stanford Health ValleyCare’s cancer treatment center at the ValleyCare Medical Plaza with one key exception. Patients must be dropped off and cannot be accompanied into the facility for radiation or chemotherapy treatment.

That leaves the patient alone for the treatment with one notable exception—cancer center chaplain Ken Wolter of Esperas4cancer. The experienced pastor serves as the center chaplain and is the only person whose job centers on providing emotional support for the cancer patients. The rest of the ValleyCare staff is quite busy with their responsibilities for treatment.

The virus-driven procedures involve more space between the infusion chairs and all staff, including Ken, wearing facemasks all day.

“I can visit with them so I’m having more conversations than ever and talking to people longer,” he said. “It’s so good that the chaplaincy is allowed in there because otherwise these people would have no one.”

He noted that it’s particularly helpful for new patients who don’t know what to expect and often are scared and just overwhelmed with the diagnosis.

When we spoke last week, the center had worked with 97 patients the prior day—about one-third for radiation treatment, one-third for infusion and the rest for tests such as blood work.

He will often see people over a few months as they undergo a series of treatments.

Ken also offered a perspective from the workers’ viewpoint, “You know we are putting ourselves more at risk, but we’re all working and one thing that we have that most people do not have is social connection. I think the younger generation is hurting because they communicate more, but connect left.”

Thinking of the patients, he said, “When you have cancer your mortality is real. People are much more open spiritually. Most of us take life for granted, but, when you have cancer, you are not taking it for granted.”
After talking with Ken, I reached out to ValleyCare CEO Rick Shumway to inquire about how the hospital is preparing for a potential outbreak of the coronavirus here. The hospital has established a COVID-19 workgroup that meets twice daily to address both immediate and long-term needs. It also has assembled a interdisciplinary taskforce led by infection control physicians to develop response plans.

Shumway also wrote in an email that the hospital has expanded its ICU capacity and converted existing rooms into negative-pressure isolation rooms. The cancellation of elective procedures has dropped the census so they believe they will have beds available if they see a surge in COVID-19 patients.

They’re also prepared a surge tent while managing supplies and protective equipment in coordination with Stanford’s other hospitals.

ValleyCare is offering drive-through testing at 5555 West. Las Positas for patients with a physician’s order and non-acute symptoms. Drive-through testing also is available from Stanford Community Physicians at 5725 Stoneridge Drive for patients with non-acute symptoms. Emergency care is available at the emergency room on the Pleasanton campus.

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