In the noisy
pediatric intensive care unit at Hopkins Children’s, parents huddle at the
bedside of their unconscious child, critically injured in an accident that
morning. Consumed by fear and grief, they are introduced to Ed Kenny, a
pediatric pastoral care resident, who sits and talks with them in the pediatric intensive care unit's (PICU)
elevator lobby. “They are devastated and seeking forgiveness and spiritual
solace,” says Kenny, “but there is nowhere else to go for this kind of
And, with the
exception of a nearby, tiny windowless conference room, there won’t be, until
the new Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center opens at Johns Hopkins next
spring. Unlike today, all patient rooms will be private in the new building,
which will also house a meditation room designed for reflection or spiritual
conversations like this one. “The room will provide a place for families to
talk about their child or with their child,” says Kenny, “as well as peaceful
space for patients to relax and feel some positive presence.”
At Johns Hopkins
and around the country, there is growing formal recognition of the importance
of spirituality in the lives of hospitalized children and families. Hopkins
Children’s Harriet Lane Compassionate Care program provides comprehensive
management of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of
children with life-limiting conditions. Children’s spiritual needs in the
hospital, regardless of diagnosis, are enduring.
young as 4 can have an acute sense of their illness and the stress it places
on their parents and siblings,” says Kenny, a former Catholic priest, now
completing his training in the Clinical Pastoral Care Program at Johns Hopkins.
“Little children respond to stories of God’s presence in their lives. As they
get older, they talk about their legacy, how they’re going to provide some
source of meaning for their lives, and start to look for answers to these
In the hospital’s
neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where Kenny also rounds, Director of Clinical
Research Pamela Donohue arranges a new selection of faith-based books. Purchased
with funds from the annual Mix 106.5 Radiothon and its supporters, the books are free to families. Recommended by the Department of Pastoral Care at
Hopkins, among others, the reading material represents all the world’s
religions, she says. More will stock the shelves in the new meditation room.
“As a researcher,
I’ve become interested in how religion affects the provision of care and
supports families in critical circumstances,” Donohue says.
ago, she and her colleagues studied NICU families’ interest in spiritual care
and whether it was being met at Johns
Hopkins. When the unit brought on its first pastoral care intern, Matt
Norvell, the requests for pastoral care,
from both staff and families, increased seven-fold. “Interestingly, only five
percent of those had to do with end-of-life situations,” says Donohue.
like Donohue’s look at their pastoral care providers as members of children’s
medical team. “We used to only call them when a patient was dying,” says
early 2000, several published papers (notably “Spirituality, Religion, and
Pediatrics: Intersecting Worlds of Healing, Pediatrics, 2000,) expounded upon
the spiritual needs of hospitalized patients, a component, too, of palliative
care, which arrived slowly in pediatric care.
gives pediatric patients and their families the chance to talk about their
experience, to help them understand that there is a source of love and strength
that is going to hold them together,” says Kenny, whose own residency ends this
Until then, he
makes rounds in Hopkins Children’s NICU and PICU to see if parents and children
are interested in support from pastoral care, or if nurses and social workers
have a referral. “Because most of our kids have a parent with them, we minister
to families chiefly,” he says.
room in the new building, opening next spring, will provide a quiet space where
families and children can relax and focus on some of these spiritual questions.
The building, and its adjoining Johns Hopkins Sheikh Zayed Tower for adults, will also house
outdoor gardens, a new interfaith chapel and numerous other areas for respite