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San Diego hospital chaplains ministering to coronavirus patients — from afar

Posted at 4:52 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 19:58:39-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - With visitors restricted from hospitals, local chaplains are on a mission to comfort the sick and dying - from a distance.

A chaplain at Sharp Memorial Hospital for nearly 10 years, Liz Mackenzie is no stranger to attending to the ill. But she calls the impact of the coronavirus pandemic wrenching.

"It's kind of surreal. Not being able to hold their hands, to have non-verbal language. It's difficult. There’s a sense of loneliness and sorrow. The halls are quiet," said Mackenzie.

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With visitors not allowed for those stricken with COVID-19, she and other staff chaplains have so far offered telephone counseling to some 25 coronavirus patients and presumptive cases, just under half in the ICU.

"They'll check with the charge nurse to see who is verbal and can answer the phone," said Mackenzie.

When she offered to pray over the phone with one man, he grew short of breath and couldn't speak.

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"He had great fear, difficulty breathing in the ICU. He was tearful, and we sat in silence," said Mackenzie.

For Catholic patients, she lets them know of the Vatican's directive. At the direction of local bishops, absolution can granted even if an in-person confession isn't possible. Across the country, in some cases, priests are performing last rites by Facetime and Zoom.

"What I'm been trying to share over the phone is God's mercy is greater than all of this," said Mackenzie.

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Mackenize says she has yet to tend to someone who has passed. She says none of her patients have insisted on receiving a sacrament in person, but have been grateful for her phone counsel.

"Trying to connect with what's important to them, providing a prayer or blessing that offers them comfort," said Mackenzie.

It's a comfort she knows will be critical with a looming surge in cases ahead.

"I'm taking a lot of inspiration from co-workers, who are fearful at times for their health and their families, but wanting to help others," said Mackenzie.