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Mitigating Pandemic Barriers

Hospital chaplain Deborah Damore finds innovative ways to minister to patients during COVID-19 crisis.

Awakened at 3 a.m., Assemblies of God U.S. Missions hospital chaplain Deborah R. Damore responds to an emergency-related phone call.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, her availability has been off the charts. It syncs with her normal duties as director of spiritual care services and clinical pastoral education (CPE) at Beaumont Health Royal Oak (BHRO) in Michigan. She leads a team of 17 professionals, including 10 staff chaplains, three CPE residents, two support staff, and a pair of CPE interns.

“I serve to bring hope and light to both patients and staff during these dark times,” says Damore. “While intense, God has been so faithful holding up our arms.”

Located 20 minutes from Detroit, the 1,091-bed hospital is a level 1 trauma center and one of Beaumont Health’s eight regional hospitals. Its patient universe includes the almost 4 million residents in Michigan’s most populated counties: Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb.

Through May 31, the three-county area, including Detroit in Wayne County, has been a coronavirus hot spot, with 35,506 confirmed cases and 4,259 deaths. The mortality rate represents 77.5 percent of the toll for the entire state, which has 83 counties. BHRO converted the majority of its clinical areas to COVID cohort floors during the height of the pandemic.

Endorsed by the AG Commission on Chaplains, Damore’s chaplaincy ministry spans 26 years in medical facilities in Canada and the U.S.

Raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in social work from the University of Waterloo. She received ministry training at Zion Bible Institute (now Northpoint Bible College). As a Zion student, she led services in a long-term care facility.

Damore completed her theological graduate degree at St. Stephen’s College-University of Alberta and is currently finishing her Doctor of Ministry thesis at Ashland Theological Seminary.

Serving in a secular environment creates its own challenges: institutional guidelines prohibit evangelizing, while respecting other faiths and giving space to atheists. Nevertheless, Damore, 59, is able to radiate the light of Christ, which opens opportunities to demonstrate His love and hope in dire situations.

“The Holy Spirit gives me wisdom to come alongside those in need during the dark night of the soul,” says Damore, an ordained AG minister.

COVID-19 unloaded new challenges on Damore and those she supervises because of the requirement to isolate patients. Damore’s team launched a “telechaplaincy” program in which chaplains stand in corridors facing COVID patients through their room windows and minister via speaker phone. They also line up conference calls, as well as virtual visits using iPads, between patients and their loved ones who are unable to visit.

Off-site, chaplains offer spiritual care visits via phone for families of hospitalized patients.

Pediatric staff chaplain Bridget Theodoroff covers the pediatric units, including neonatal intensive care. She also supports adults and health care staff throughout the hospital. Theodoroff says she admires how Damore has instructed team members to creatively improvise during the coronavirus crisis.

Theodoroff recalls ministering by phone to a mother and daughter through their patient room window. Both suffered together from COVID-19. The daughter recovered, but her mother died.

In another incident, a distraught intensive care unit nurse stopped Theodoroff to ask for prayer.

“Her grandmother had just died at the same time four of her patients died from the virus,” says Theodoroff, 52. “It was heartbreaking.”

Additional programs include “Huddle of Hope” virtual prayer for hospital staff via Skype, and the closed circuit “Spirit of Hope” TV channel for services, inspirational messages, and Scripture passages.

Management wholeheartedly supports Damore’s chaplaincy ministry, especially during the pandemic.

“Deborah’s steady and strong leadership, based in faith and goodness, has made the difference at our site,” says Debra Guido-Allen, Beaumont Health Royal Oak chief operating officer.

Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.