First, Congratulations to Dr. Adam Ridenhour in receiving his doctorate from Duke University Divinity School! He examined how integrated clinical spiritual care, counseling and community engagement may be tailored to the unique needs of patients, staff and community members in small, community hospital contexts.
By Melanie Raskin
FaithHealth chaplain manager Adam Ridenhour will likely never see a one-of-a-kind medical drama in rural Davie Medical Center in Bermuda Run, NC. But he does get to be a part of people’s lives at critical, and often interesting, times. When an employee died unexpectedly after her shift at the hospital, he supported staff in their grief, helped organize the funeral with family and ensured staff knew how to attend the service and support the mourners.
He checks in daily on the lonely elderly patient far from home. And when a client without a car couldn’t walk to her counseling appointment safely by herself due to a medical condition, he connected her to an area faith community willing to drop by twice a week to take that stroll with her.
Ridenhour wears a lot of hats – and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He manages the hospital chaplain ministry, oversees FaithHealth engagement efforts to unite the hospital with area agencies and faith communities, and supports patients as a licensed counselor via CareNet, a spiritually integrated counseling organization affiliated with Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health.
“It’s my job to accompany the vulnerable and isolated, to be a witness to their suffering,” he says. “And to serve as a change agent to make a positive impact in their lives and in the community.”
According to Emily Viverette, Chaplaincy and Education Program director at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, chaplain managers are strong links in an often-complex chain. They connect the local hospital with the community and the community with the local hospital.
“It’s a 2-fold role of providing spiritual care and building bridges,” Viverette says. “Our rural communities are suffering. Chaplains are the story-weavers who build on the spiritual strengths and assets of these diverse communities and people they serve, forging partnerships and helping the hospital be a better neighbor.”
It’s a careful balancing act. While chaplain managers provide the traditional spiritual support to hospital patients, families and staff, they also work with agencies, government and not-for-profit agencies to ensure patients get the support they need once they leave the hospital.
The way they connect with the community can be as different as the regions they serve. Wilkes County’s FaithHealth chaplain manager has established a transportation ministry to drive patients to medical appointments. Lexington Medical Center’s FaithHealth chaplain manager developed a partnership with a locally owned grocery store to provide emergency food support. And Ridenhour co-created the Healthy Farmers Program to deliver spiritual education, resources, counseling and pastoral support to farmers experiencing isolation and despair. He also sits on the local United Way board, is president of Family Promise (which seeks to eradicate homelessness), co-chairs the hospital’s workplace violence committee and serves on a community domestic violence task force.
It’s that unique combination of flexibility and creativity, prayer power and community activism, that drives Ridenhour.
“I love my job,” he says. “It’s my mission to step into the gaps and messiness that our most vulnerable patients find themselves in and tailor support and care to meet those specific needs. It may be serving a spiritual need with counseling or a physical need like transportation. I’m lucky to have the freedom to think outside the box, to step into whatever role best helps people, and address areas of need both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.”