A hospital room is not the ideal place to be for most people -- especially if they are alone.
Patients at Mercy Medical Center don't have to be by themselves. Steven Heath, hospital chaplain, said the center offers spiritual care visitor service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The center deploys 20 spiritual care volunteers who have been trained by professionals to visit the sick and make them feel comfortable.
Nancy Brawley is one of them.
Brawley has been volunteering for nearly four years. She said she especially enjoys visiting young people who are incarcerated. Typically, the only other person in the room with them is an officer. "There's no one to come in and show interest in them and ask them questions," she said.
Brawley also likes to visit sick patients at the emergency room. Most of the patients are afraid, she said. "Any time I've offered to pray with them, their body totally relaxes," she said. "I feel so blessed. Most people are so grateful."
She comes across new situations every time she volunteers. "You just never know when you walk in what you are going to find," she said.
Most hospitals offer this kind of service or a similar one. Mercy Medical Center has offered it for the past 14 years, Heath said. The center features one of the largest training programs in the area.
Some 30 people from Merced County completed a Spiritual Care 101 class Tuesday night. That's the first step to becoming a spiritual care visitor at the hospital. According to Heath, the class is divided into three sessions, for a total of 18 hours of instruction. Participants learn skills needed to understand the types of emotional crisis that patients and families face.
They also learn about the issues they may experience, and how to approach them. "We try to help the class know what's helpful and what's not," he explained.
For example, "When a baby dies, what do the people go through and how do we help them?" Heath said chaplains mostly deal with end-of-life issues, but the volunteers are also trained to deal with that situation.
Sister Lucille Carreau, a part-time chaplain at Mercy, told the class participants on Tuesday night that it's not easy for a woman to deal with the loss of her baby. "Before that child is born, bonding begins," she explained. "(The parents) start to build a future. Everybody is expecting the baby."
After a baby dies, some women will cry, others will react with silence or anger, she said. The average readjustment time for a woman who loses a child is seven years. "That's what makes it a complicated grief," she added.
Heath said about 15 out of the 30 participants who completed the first course Tuesday will go on to the next course to become a volunteer. Spiritual Care 102 is designed to teach the volunteers about the hospital's policies and confidentiality issues.
Volunteers go "through a background check to make sure they are safe," according to Heath.
Heath said the volunteers conduct shadow visits before visiting a sick patient on their own.
Atwater resident Jesus Solorio said he took the first class because he wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how to deal with tough medical calls. Solorio now plans to enroll in the next class to become a volunteer to "care for others," he said.
Heath said volunteers are asked to make a 12-month commitment, and they can't represent any religion. "They don't come in representing their church -- they come with a loving heart," he explained.
Mercy Medical Center offers the Spiritual Care 101 class once a year. Participants have to pay $36 to take the class. The next class is free.
Their impact on patients? Priceless.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507 or email@example.com.