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The service of Pastoral Care in times of crisis

23rd August 2021

The past year and a half has been testing for everyone and never more so than in aged care. But trying times often see incredible ingenuity in finding a way through. The Traralgon Pastoral Care team from Victorian aged care provider Benetas, had to significantly adapt to tackle the challenges that COVID -19 brought in providing much needed support to older Australians.

Thanks to COVID-19, the residents in Dalkeith Garden’s residential aged care home, Dalkeith Heights retirement village and local Home Care clients have grappled with additional worries about their health, isolation from loved ones and even mourning the passing of friends and family from a distance.

It was the unique support that Pastoral Care could offer through skilled practitioners such as John Harper and Damir Posenjak that was the source of comfort and connection for many of these people. The state-wide Benetas Pastoral Care team found great benefit in sharing stories to help tackle common challenges, especially regarding grief and memorials.

Sharing knowledge and experience enriched the offering of the whole team state wide as the need and will to adapt was strong and well received. John Harper found that Pastoral Care memorials and streaming of funeral services during the height of restrictions were a critical link to help Dalkeith residents heal.

“Marking the passing of friends and family even by virtual means when there were limits on gatherings for funerals and movement was needed for everyone’s wellbeing,” he said.

“At Benetas, the Pastoral Care offering focusses on supporting emotional and spiritual wellbeing for all, faith or no faith.

“For residents seeking faith based support, parish clergy and volunteers who normally would visit and conduct services and provide other support, were unable to due to restrictions on visitors. Pastoral Care filled this gap by live streaming church services and helping facilitate memorial sessions with residents.

“Residents have voiced their thanks and gratitude for the continued support that has given emotional, mental and spiritual connection in memory of residents that have passed.”

Mr Posenjak noticed in particular that there was a strong sense of grief and loss, isolation and loneliness experienced by residents and employees at Benetas St Georges, Altona North, especially when a resident passed, without the normal avenues to process this, such as face to face memorial services. Mr Posenjak decided to create ‘virtual’ memorial videos, specific for each resident who passed away, in an effort to celebrate their life and help the residents have their moment to grieve.

“We did the research and included photos and quotes about their life. These were then shared with the community, enabling employees and residents to view the videos individually or in small groups to reflect, remember and acknowledge the loss of much loved residents.”

The work of the whole Pastoral Care team also inspired the development of training sessions on grief, loss and bereavement care for employees. This was clearly needed in the community as pastoral care referrals immediately increased for grief and loss support.

Mr Harper found he was also called upon to support pandemic-weary employees, stating that it was obvious that so much more was being asked of aged care employees that for many, fatigue was setting in.

“Many more employees were seeking out the support of Pastoral Care,” he said.

“I found that what they needed most during these hard times was a listening ear and tremendous encouragement for their hard work and effort that was demonstrated to support the health and care of Benetas customers.

“Isolation doesn’t have to mean you are alone and we have been happily creating positive experiences by way of facilitating online Church Services, Memorial Services, Men’s Groups, gardening clubs and even a visit from Santa Claus at Christmas.

“The important role of Pastoral Care is just what is needed for many people, faith or no faith, and helps us foster the Benetas community with respect, spirituality, responsibility and connectedness.”

Pastoral Care is a referral based service that helps cater to people’s needs holistically taking into account their cultural, emotional and spiritual well-being. Pastoral Care is frequently called upon in times of sadness, loss and despair but can also play a significant part in celebrations such as birthdays, carol singing at Christmas and recovery.