Seventh-day Adventist hospital administrators and church leaders throughout the Inter-American Division (IAD) church region recently took time for spiritual reflection and prayer for physicians, other health professionals, and general staff as they care for patients during the pandemic crisis.
During a May 31, 2020, video conference session they reaffirmed the mission of spreading hope, love, and compassion, even in the midst of stringent limitations of operation across the 14 Adventist hospitals in the IAD.
Elie Henry, president of IAD, addressed dozens of leaders. “The work that you are doing as frontline workers, sacrificing family, your personal life, to save people in service to the community is essential as part of the [health] ministry,” he said. “To be the hands of God like this…. Thank you for who you are and what you’re doing as a physician, as a nurse, as a medical professional…. Please know that God will not abandon you.”
Together in Solidarity
The encouragement came as health ministries leaders from the Adventist world church pointed to the Bible and the storms God’s people had to face in the past.
“We come together in solidarity during this time of unprecedented challenge, grief, loss, and opportunity,” said Peter Landless, health ministries director for the world church. “We are here to agonize, trust God, and share. We are all in the same storm in different boats, struggling with these issues, but each of you represents the right hand of God’s message to a broken world.”
It’s not only about the health message but a health mission to extend the healing message of Jesus, Landless said.
“Thank you for your dedication, your work, your commitment, and service. Your church is with you.”
Hospital administrators were reminded of how to deal with stress and approach pressing challenges, their special calling, and their reliance on God through the pandemic. Prayer sessions included specific requests for protection among health professionals and their families, and wisdom to make the right decisions focused on the mission of serving with love and compassion.
The meeting was not about bringing up complaints and current or prior concerns to the pandemic throughout the hospital institutions, stressed Elie S. Honore, president of Adventist Health Services-Interamerica (AHS-IA). “Yes, we were facing difficulties in our hospitals before the pandemic hit, but thanks to our financial partners, hospitals are still running and providing medical services to the community,” he said.
Hospitals are running with less staff, less compensation, and more challenges, he said, but “we must keep together in this effort by praying for each other every day at midday,” Honore said.
Honore explained that soon after the pandemic restrictions went into effect in countries across the IAD, hospital administrators had to adjust quickly to facing three priorities: cutting salaries; obtaining personal protective equipment like face shields, masks, and gloves; and procuring supplies for the hospitals.
“All of our hospitals were forced to reduce their staff, cut down their elective surgical cases, and cut the pay to the rest of the working staff to up to 50 percent compensation,” Honore said. Some hospitals like Vista del Jardín Adventist Hospital in the Dominican Republic and Bella Vista Hospital in Puerto Rico have been able to take in COVID-19 patients. Many administrators have been forced to cut down on the ratio of nurses to patients from one nurse to five patients to one for ten patients, Honore explained. In addition, medical professionals have been exposed to and affected by the coronavirus. Thankfully, there have been no reports of deaths among physicians and staff.
Because some of the 14 Adventist hospitals in IAD lack the proper equipment to treat COVID-19 patients, those facilities have been able to take in patients with regular medical needs from nearby public hospitals, freeing up space for COVID-19 patients in the public hospitals, Honore said.
For example, in Honduras, Valle de Angeles Adventist Hospital had one positive case of the coronavirus come in, but that patient had to be moved to another hospital because the main service it offers is long-term care. The medical staff has been taking many precautions as they care for the elderly residents across their nursing home wing, according to Honore.
The same challenges have been experienced at the Adventist hospital in Haiti, where non-elective surgeries and non-essential services like physical therapy had to close, and operations were reduced by more than 25 percent. “The hospital usually sees approximately 200 patients in their outpatient clinics per day, now it’s been less than 100, sometimes 60, or 40 patients because of distancing measures and reduced staff to provide care,” Honore said.
Yet amid the reduced operations, Honore said, he sees how God continues to sustain the hospitals. Thanks to AHS-IA, which is affiliated with Adventist Health International (AHI), medical staff have been compensated for their work during the past two months, Honore explained. AHI is an organization based in Loma Linda, California, United States that strengthens and assists Adventist health-care institutions. Nine of the hospitals in the AHS-IA system received help to compensate their working staff.
In addition, AdventHealth, a Seventh-day Adventist health-care system based in Altamonte Springs, Florida, United States, and its network of hospitals, and in coordination with ADRA International, is providing containers of personal protective equipment to four of their footprint institutions, in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti.
“I keep reminding myself that no matter what, God is in charge,” said Honore, who said he spends many sleepless nights, and most of the day on the phone, involved very closely with hospital management issues and decisions.
Honore said that in the past he prayed for God to make him wealthy so that he could take care of institutions. “But I didn’t realize how wealthy we are in the amount of assistance from our partners. It tells me that God is looking after the hospitals, and that quiets my soul a lot. Instead of fretting, I rejoice in those opportunities that help our institutions serve,” he said.
The biggest concern is to avoid having a permanent dependency on donor institutions, Honore said. “We want all our hospitals and clinics to be self-reliant.”
The pandemic situation has brought about opportunities for hospital administrators and board members to meet more often online, pray more together, and provide more training. Starting in mid-June 2020, board members and chairpersons will meet once a month as part of ongoing continuing education for general training of hospital leaders as well, and more, Honore said.