In a cost-cutting move, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia has decided to reduce by half the number of hospitals it serves with its chaplaincy program.
But the agency’s director says that the decades-old program is not facing elimination and she hopes that the cuts will be temporary.
The agency is “committed wholeheartedly to this service and in no way are we going to end this service. We feel that this chaplaincy service is core to our mission at JFCS,” said Paula Goldstein, president and CEO of JFCS.
As of Oct. 1, the agency is no longer funding chaplains to visit Jewish patients at Abington Hospital, Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia and Aria Health, which also runs a community hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.
The agency, with some help from the hospitals, is still paying chaplains to spend two hours a week visiting patients at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Until 2010, JFCS got all its funding for the program from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. For the past two years, the service has been funded entirely by JFCS, which offers a diverse range of programs to help children, adults and seniors in need.
Over the past few months, the agency asked participating hospitals to contribute $5,000 to cover part of the cost of the chaplain.
Three of the hospitals declined. Goldstein said that JFCS is still in discussions with those institutions with the hope of coming to an agreement and finding a way to restart the service. She also said the agency is talking with other area hospitals and may end up sending chaplains to medical institutions that weren’t served before.
Hospital chaplaincy is one part of JFCS’s expansive chaplaincy program.
The agency also sends chaplains — who are often rabbis but sometimes are lay people specifically trained to offer spiritual counseling to patients — to hospices, nursing homes and boarding homes. Those institutions also offset some of the costs of having a chaplain.
The communal hospital cha-plaincy program dates to the 1950s. For years, it was under the auspices of the Board of Rabbis, which was funded by Federation. JFCS assumed oversight in 2000. As Federation struggled to raise needed funds and support many programs, allocations to the chaplaincy program fell steadily. For the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Federation provided $50,000 to fund chaplains in 11 hospitals.
Then, in 2010, as Federation underwent the process of narrowing the areas of programming that it funds, it cut the JFCS allocation to hospital chaplaincy entirely.
In the aftermath, the JFCS board raised $50,000 to cover chaplaincy services at six hospitals for two years. Goldstein explained that it would be financially untenable to continue funding the program that way over the long run.
Rabbi Reba Carmel, who for the past year had visited patients at Nazareth Hospital, was among those told not to report for work at the hospital anymore.
“I feel badly for the patients,” said Carmel, a Reconstructionist rabbi. “They were really appreciative and relieved when a Jewish chaplain was there.”
Even if the visit lasted just a couple minutes, she said, “it was really meaningful for them.”