Special Report: Kaiser Santa Clara Downsizes Chaplain and “Spiritual Care” for Its Patients

By Robert Haugh

Most hospitals have a chaplain to help patients and their families with spiritual care. Kaiser Santa Clara has decided to eliminate the position, according to multiple sources. 

In addition, the hospital’s “spiritual care” efforts have suffered. The “No One Dies Alone” (NODA) program that trains volunteers to help dying adult patients who don’t have a family has been severely reduced.

The hospital spokesman gave us this response:

Members, patients and their families may request to meet with a chaplain 24/7 at our Santa Clara Medical Center at their convenience. Any member of our care team can connect requestors to one of our eight volunteer chaplains. Chaplains can also coordinate visits from priests, rabbis or other religious leaders.

 The ‘No One Dies Alone’ program, started in 2010 at our Santa Clara Medical Center and continues to provide comfort and a supportive presence. We have 11 volunteers in our ‘No One Dies Alone’ program.”

But according to sources, the NODA program is currently down to just 3 volunteers and there are fewer than 8 volunteer chaplains. 

Kaiser Santa Clara would not provide info on when it last had a chaplain or why they eliminated the position. According to sources, it was a cost-saving move dictated by Chris Boyd, Kaiser’s Senior VP/Area Manager.

Other Hospitals’ Approach

Unlike Kaiser Santa Clara, many other Kaiser locations in Northern California have hospital chaplains. 

Currently, there are two advertisements for chaplain jobs at Kaiser in Santa Rosa and South San Francisco.

The average salary for a Kaiser chaplain is around $76,000 annually.

Kaiser Sacramento-Roseville describes the role of the chaplain in their spiritual care with this statement:

“Our vision is to provide high quality clinical chaplaincy and spiritual care to the members and patients of Kaiser Permanente, to their loved ones, and the communities we serve. This means bringing the right resource to the right place at the right time. To do so, we acknowledge and affirm the distinctive and complementary roles of highly skilled, board certified clinical chaplains, chaplains-in-training, spiritual care volunteers, other clinicians, and community faith group representatives (including clergy).”

UC-San Francisco, one of the nation’s best hospitals, describes their NODA and chaplain team this way:

NODA is not a religiously oriented service and it is not a replacement for a chaplain or anyone else serving a professional function on the caregiving team.

More than 75 percent of Americans will die in a hospital or a long-term care facility, according to the American Psychological Association. So, a lot of experts in the field think a hospital’s approach to spiritual care for its patients is important.

Everyone needs “someone there to advocate for them, or simply be with them in the hospital when the time comes,” said Dr. Mohana Karlekar, director of palliative care at Vanderbilt.

4 comments

  1. The NODA program at Kaiser Santa Clara has far more than three members – 11 seems correct. I’m one of the volunteers.

    Currently there are three individuals that rotate serving as the NODA Coordinator for the program. When requested the coordinator on duty initiates the process, which involves the rest of us.

  2. The 8 volunteer Chaplains at Kaiser are not involved in any way with NODA program. They are volunteers of different religions and are a separate entity.

  3. This was helpful info. Thank you. My son and daughter-in-law are looking for a new health care plan. This info will cause them to look at someplace other than Kaiser. I wish you could share this on Facebook so more people will see. I think its open enrollment period now so a lot of people need to know good and bad hospitals.

  4. GREAT special report, Robert!

    Now we know why the union is having such a hard time with management. If Boyd is willing to cut a chaplain to save a few bucks, he’s willing to screw the workers and patients. Keep exposing the greed!

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