'We’re on the front lines just like everyone else:' As hospitalizations spike chaplains provide hope

Image from iOS (53).jpg
Posted at 3:00 PM, Aug 17, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — For almost a decade, Larry Penix has served as a chaplain at Pikeville Medical Center. But when COVID-19 hit in 2020, pastoral care turned virtual for Penix and his team of five.

“We had a job to do,” Penix told LEX 18 as he reflected on his work Tuesday. “And so everyone just started to do their job.”

They’ve kept going now for 17 months, facilitating phone calls and FaceTimes with patients and families.

“That’s where chaplains come in,” Penix said. “Sort of come in and bridge that gap. And if someone doesn’t have family, we’re able to be there.”

He says their toughest challenge so far has been providing support to exhausted hospital employees, who are dealing with a fourth wave of the virus.

“There's something called ‘compassion fatigue’ you hear about, where day in and day out you're dealing with death and dying,” Penix said. “They've really worked hard, and it's been really tough on them.”

In the past week, health officials in Pike County have reported cases are spiking once again. In a Facebook video last Thursday, health director Tammy Riley said PMC was nearing “crisis mode.” Currently, around 70 patients are battling the virus in the hospital.

Chaplains are grieving alongside families, Penix said.

“For whatever reason, there's times when it just gets to you,” he said. “And you try the best you can to hold it together while the family's there. But there are times, we're human, where we may cry with them. And it's just part of what we do, and it's okay.”

Penix says time spent hiking and hunting in nature, and his faith, have helped him cope. He also credited his team of chaplains and other PMC staff.