Bishop Demetrios Plays Significant Role in Funding

His Grace Bishop Demetrios played a significant role in establishing much needed funding for a paid Chaplain position at Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital). His efforts, begun two years ago when he served as president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, have recently borne fruit with the appointment of the Rev. Carol Reese, who will provide much needed pastoral care for patients and families at the 1.2 million sq. foot facility. The immensity of Stroger's case load is staggering: the Adult ER treats over 110,000 patients annually, the Pediatrics ER over 45,000. Without pastoral care or guidance, many of these patients were left without spiritual help at times when they were most vulnerable. Through His Grace's efforts, a new chapter is being written in the history of Stroger, and bringing hope and consolation to those in need.


Amid the Ailing and Uninsured, Hospital Chaplain Finds New Faith
By James Warren

Standing in a hallway at Stroger Hospital on Wednesday morning, Dr. Stathis Poulakidas began a weekly status report on the mostly horrific cases in the burn unit he runs.

There was a 70-year-old woman whose nightgown had caught fire as she reached over her stove. A 21-year-old man who had fallen on an el track’s third rail. A 34-year-old man who, when intoxicated, had been dragged under a bus. A 7-month-old girl who had somehow been lodged between a radiator and a wall.

Analyzing them and others — and discussing transfusions, ventilators and skin grafts to repair physical damage — he was surrounded and assisted by 12 professionals, including nurses, residents, an infectious disease specialist, a pharmacist and a physical therapist.

And there was one colleague, Carol Reese, there to minister to the soul.

Her hospital I.D. labels her “violence prevention coordinator,” as does the Cook County budget line with her position. But Ms. Reese’s white coat is emblazoned with a more accurate description: chaplain.

She is the first paid chaplain in the 144-year history of the sprawling medical center known to most as Cook County — part inspiration for television’s “E.R.” and a longtime destination for a largely poor, minority and uninsured urban population tended to by a valiant, highly competent and often-overworked medical staff. Its $500 million in annual uncompensated care dwarfs that of any other Illinois hospital.

On Friday, Stroger will be the unconventional site of a solemn event: Ms. Reese’s ordination as an Episcopal minister. The ceremony will be led by the nation’s top Episcopalian, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to hold that post in the church’s 400-plus-year history. The event will underscore the intersection of faith and medicine, and represents the church’s support for Ms. Reese’s labor on behalf of the uninsured and disenfranchised.

As the minister of her North Side parish, Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church, put it, Ms. Reese “has been ministering to people living on the edge.”

Many hospitals, especially those with religious affiliations, have paid chaplains and even 24-hour pastoral care. That’s not true at Stroger, which has relied on volunteer chaplains, including Jesuits, who have had a presence there for about a century.

An agreement to establish a paid position resulted from negotiations among county commissioners and religious leaders. The latter included Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, who was then president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

“I knew of her work, and it just wasn’t acceptable not to have services there,” he said. “Now the hospital needs a full-time office.”

Ms. Reese, 54, was raised a Southern Baptist in rural Missouri, and later moved to Arkansas and Kentucky. She earned master’s degrees in divinity and social work, then came to Chicago in 1986 to work for the Baptists at Stroger, focusing on H.I.V. and AIDS patients.

She left to lead the AIDS Pastoral Care Network for 12 years, along the way making a break with the Baptists. They had become too conservative for her theological liking and, as a gay woman, she felt out of place.

Her partner, Jeanne Wirpsa, the chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, is an Episcopalian. So Ms. Reese went that route, too. They are the parents of two children.

Ms. Reese became an Episcopal chaplain, though not ordained, and in 2005 returned to the Stroger trauma and burn units, which function as one. She finds patients who are often “outside the realm of respectability for most churches” but who cite faith as helping them survive their ordeals.

As usual, Dr. Poulakidas was assisted at Wednesday’s informal but systematic session by Dr. Areta Kowal-Vern, director of the burn research and tissue bank. Every aspect of each patient’s care was discussed, even debated. Then it was Ms. Reese’s turn.

In the case of a 33-year-old man, burned in a garage fire, she recounted her dealings with a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who cited their faith in disapproving of blood transfusions. Ultimately, they consented but would not sign any legal documents, a compromise approved by hospital lawyers.

The inherent stress can get to the medical staff who, like Dr. Poulakidas, will seek her help. But it can also get to her.

A 16-year-old with a gunshot wound to the back of the head was dying when his family agreed to remove him from a ventilator. But they said their farewells and exited before it was removed. A distressed Ms. Reese was left to hold his hand and weep as he breathed his last breath.

“He looked so perfectly normal,” the chaplain recalled. “So normal.”




County hospital's first staff chaplain starts work
By Becky Schlikerman, Tribune reporter
6:11 p.m. CSTDecember 5, 2010

Standing before an altar set with a silver cup of wine and bread invoking the Holy Spirit, the Rev. Carol Reese celebrated Mass for the first time Sunday before her longtime congregation at All Saints Episcopal Church in the Ravenswood neighborhood.

But the newly minted priest chose to be ordained among the people she intends to serve — the patients of Stroger Hospital, the Cook County hospital that serves the poor and uninsured.

"I really feel like, and believe, the hospital where I work is where I'm called to be," Reese said. "That's my parish."

This week, Reese will walk into Stroger ready to serve the spiritual needs of those suffering from traumatic injuries. Many hospitals, including those with religious affiliations, have paid chaplains on staff. Reese is the first one in Stroger's history.

"For me it's a matter of justice," Reese said. "Our patients deserve the same level and quality of care as anyone else in the city can get."

The push for a hospital-funded position began two years ago when Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, learned there was no professional chaplain at Stroger. The hospital relied mainly on volunteers and Roman Catholic priests from the nearby Jesuit religious order to provide spiritual services.

Bishop Demetrios, then president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, said he thought the gap was appalling and helped broker the negotiations with hospital officials and religious leaders.

"The doctors wanted it, and the patients wanted it," he said.

They also needed it, said Susan Avila, the hospital's trauma nurse coordinator. Hospital researchers conducted focus groups and were surprised to find that patients felt they needed a spiritual guide to help them heal physically, Avila said.

"A lot of people leave with scars that will forever change the way their body works, the way their body looks," Reese said. "It is hard, and that's part of the reason many of the folks we work with say they turn to their faith to help them get through."

This is Reese's second stint at the hospital. She first arrived in 1986 and was working with the Southern Baptist Convention to help develop a ministry at the hospital. She also worked with HIV/AIDS patients and hospital staff, offering spiritual support to patients and employees working with them.

Reese, who grew up in a small town in Missouri, said she left the Southern Baptists because they became theologically conservative and she didn't see a place for herself in the church leadership, especially as a lesbian. So Reese, 54, followed her partner of now 11 years, Jeanne Wirpsa, and other friends into the Episcopal Church. Wirpsa is a chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. They live in Chicago's East Rogers Park neighborhood and are the mothers of Eli, 7, and Sophie, 10.

Starting in the early 1990s until 2002, Reese was the executive director of the AIDS Pastoral Care Network, which provided support and education about working with HIV/AIDS patients to clergy and congregations.

But Reese, who has degrees in social work and divinity, returned to Stroger in 2005 as part of a grant-funded position in the trauma department working as a chaplain to support people who had "experienced a death … and to help the team better care for patients and families who were working their way through, recovering from traumatic injuries," she said.

Reese said she feels privileged to be able to help people during life-changing situations, but it can be overwhelming.

She recalls a 16-year-old who was shot in the back of the head.

As he lay on the hospital bed looking "completely normal" but with a catastrophic brain injury, his parents decided to take him off the ventilator. It was a family that had lost several relatives to violence in the street.

"It felt like they just couldn't bear to lose another child," Reese said.

The family didn't stay with the teen once he was taken off the ventilator.

"The staff and I gathered around his bed and held his hand and wept as he breathed his last breath," she said. "It was too much to bear."

For those families and the countless others, Reese said she will continue working and trying to build the chaplain department at Stroger.

"One paid position is not adequate," she said. "My hope is the hospital will eventually make a decision to fund a professional department of pastoral health that is organized and equipped to meet all the needs of the patients."