By Doug Dunbar

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – I know a lot of health care workers.

The stories I’ve heard over the last 10 months are often surreal. I can’t imagine their daily jobs in normal times, with life often hanging in the balance.

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Now add Covid-19, and the madness of overflowing facilities, and workers doing all they can, but carrying the extra burden of, what happens to their own families if they get infected.

But not one worker has told me they are done. Walking away. Not one. Most tell me despite the stress and fear, they are more committed than ever.

Part of the reason for that I believe, is their commitment to what is often described as “a calling.”

Those who work in health care, and care for us when we’re sick, are just flat out special people. But Covid has provided perhaps the greatest mental challenge many of us, including at the top of the list healthcare workers, have ever seen.

So who takes care of them, when they are out of energy, when they are scared, when day after day, watching people they talked to yesterday, die?

In our premier edition of “The Super Ones,” I highlight the pastoral team at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth.

JPS Chaplain Service (CBS 11)

Unless you’ve been in that hospital, and requested pastoral services, you wouldn’t likely know about them.

But they are there, 24/7, for families who often are losing a loved one. Providing words of comfort, prayer, and holding hands and hearts in moments that are so very hard for anyone.

In this year of pandemic madness, the team has found that while their focus has always been on staff and patients and their families, the mission to focus more on staff grew to a level last year they couldn’t have anticipated.

La’rissa Harris is a nurse in the Covid unit at JPS, she told me the hardest days, are when they lose someone. Even simply telling me that brings tears to Harris’ eyes, and a moment that overwhelms.

Same goes for Covid unit nurse Josh Knickerbocker, who shared this with me.

“One of the most difficult days was seeing someone a lot of us knew, pass. Then it’s setting up face time with families and hearing them talk to their loved ones certainly will bring tears to your eyes. It’s kind of a combination of all of those things.”

These workers are drained. Physically, mentally. And having really hard days has become routine in this new age of Covid.

JPS Chaplain Service (CBS 11)

It begs the question, when the heroes are having hard days, who is there for them? To keep them going?

At JPS, that question leads us directly to Leann Franklin, and her pastoral team.

They’ve become the big shoulder for the 7,200 workers at JPS, from sanitation, to senior directors, to lean on.

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Leann doesn’t mince words about how quick things changed.

“When Covid hit, you know everything was immediately different. All of a sudden those who care for people in trauma, are traumatized themselves.”

Almost instantly, those who always provide the hope, need it themselves.

First thing that came to mind for the pastoral team, a place to simply let feelings go.

The tree of hope was born. A simple birch tree, now filled with over a thousand hand written messages of hope – by those who walk and work these halls every day. And the team found that writing down feelings is often met by the chance to talk about them, too.

JPS Chaplain Service (CBS 11)

Covid nurse Josh Knickerbocker told me this.

“I’ve had a lot of chats with my pastor, kind of debriefing and talking with other nurses about their experiences. And unquestionably, the pastoral care team, I can’t even put a number on all the things they do for us.”

Things like something they’ve named “the love bomb!”

Basically, surprise visits, in halls or rooms, with chaplains singing songs to lift spirits. And often with them on a cart, is what they call the soul cafe, drinks and sweet treats.

And what’s sometimes needed most. A diversion.

La’rissa told me as small or as silly as it might seem from the outside: “It’s nice for that moment, just to step outside patient care and just for that moment, to focus on yourself in that moment, and revive yourself.”

The pastoral gang is a small but mighty team that leans on faith, and figures out new ways to help our heroes keep the faith.

Leann Franklin put it best, when I asked her to try and sum up in one sentence, what they do.

“We’re people of the light, we’re people of hope and we’re gonna hang on to hope. Because that’s who we are. That’s what we do.”

The team is made up of six full time chaplains, and a few part-timers. They are always there for patients and their families, but never before has the need for what they do not only for them, but also the 7,200 workers at JPS Hospital, been so great.

Sharing fun, feelings, and faith, to help everyone keep the faith.


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