When the Rev. Bruce Henderson moved to Carson City in 1973, there was no formal chaplaincy program in place at Carson-Tahoe Hospital. Neither was there a formal chapel.
The "chapel" was a 4-by-8 foot room with stained glass, a chair and an open Bible on a table.
"It was more like a meditation room," Henderson said. "And when the hospital went through renovations some years ago, the chapel was removed. There was no follow up to replace it."
Then "volunteer extraordinaire" Ruth Gotelli went into action. Gotelli, now deceased, also sat on the board of directors for the hospital. Through her work and fund-raising, a new chapel was put in place and dedicated in her name.
A resurgence of interest in the chaplaincy program was seen. Rev. Terry Arnold, former pastor at First Baptist Church in Carson City, was asked to coordinate the program. He along with hospital ombudsman Betty Paul, put the program back in place in cooperation with the Carson City Ministerial Fellowship.
Henderson has been the coordinator since 1986 and now works with ombudsman Kitty Stone.
The 24-hour, on-call chaplain works two weeks at a time, some will take on four weeks to help. Henderson said each pastor is free to set their own parameters as to what they will do and, in writing their weekly chapel service.
"Everybody does things a little different," Henderson said.
While on their two-week service, the pastors are also on-call at Behavioral Health Services.
"I hold an in-service training once a year for the pastors," Henderson said.
"It's a refresher course to those who have been volunteers and offers training to the new ones. We get upgraded on new hospital policies and regulations like infection control, fire drills and such.
"We're a band of Christian ministers who attempt to give comfort and hope to patients and their families.
"The patients are here and they're vulnerable. The pastors are not there to win someone over to their church. And if an appropriate pastor is not available, we do have several on a referral list I will contact. Like if there's a Jewish patient who wants a rabbi, we will make them available.
"Most of all, we respect their confidentiality. We're there to comfort and listen."
Henderson said sometimes the pastor is stopped by nurses on duty who suggest there is a family who could use some kind words, or, when the family is about to make a major decision regarding the patient's condition -- such as life support.
"I have found the families do appreciate our presence at a time like this."
Making the rounds Wednesday at Carson-Tahoe Hospital was Rev. Al Tilstra, a pastor with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Tilstra has volunteered 14 years in the chaplaincy program.
"First thing I do is check in on the patients I have visited before," Tilstra said.
"Then I visit the Intensive Care Unit patients and the nurses station, to see if there is anything specific or a special request."
Tilstra made his way to the second floor to visit a patient, praying with her and making time to sit and visit.
"He's (Tilstra) the best pastor and friend a girl could ever have," said Dorothy Lewis.
Lewis and her husband Trevor occasionally attend church in Silver Springs where Tilstra preaches and have breakfast every Tuesday morning at the Carson Station, when they are able.
"I appreciate that pastors are allowed to come in here (hospital)," said Lewis.
"Our family just thinks the world of Pastor Al. He's really wonderful."
Tilstra complimented the work done by Stone to allow the pastors to visit patients.
"We're very appreciative of what Kitty has done for us.
"Sometimes it's difficult for us to do what we do, mostly because of federal regulations and patient privacy and confidentiality," Tilstra said.
The hospital chapel is open 24-hours a day. There is a guest book which may be signed by anyone, with a special prayer request column on the pages. The prayers are said during Thursday's "Remembrance Service."
"It's nice for people to know we have this and it is available for their use," Henderson said.
"If someone would like to arrange for spiritual visitation, they can call my office at 882-5046."
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