A Shared Mission of Healing

FaithHealth Podcast Episode 1 — Glenn Davis, First Responder Chaplain

Jan 7, 2019 | FaithHealth Education, FaithHealth Podcast, first responder chaplain


Emily Viverette: This is the FaithHealth Learning Forum Podcast, a podcast series designed to offer insights into the vision of FaithHealthNC, a dynamic partnership between faith communities, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and other healthcare providers focused on improving health. I am Emily Viverette, director of FaithHealth Education. This particular series focuses on mining the wisdom of key leaders within the division of FaithHealth Ministries at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Today I’m talking with Chaplain Glenn Davis, manager of the First Responder Chaplaincy Program based at Wake Forest Baptist. Glen served as the chaplain for 26 years with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and brought a wealth of wisdom and expertise to the development and oversight of the program. Glenn, thanks so much for being here.

For an Article on First Responder Chaplains, Click HERE

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis: Glad to be here.

Viverette: I wonder if you might share some about your passion for the first responder community and what even drew you to that work?

Davis: Well, as you mentioned, I was with the sheriff’s office actually more than 26 years. Close to 27 and a half years. As I approach retirement, I did not want to give up my work with that group and even while I was at the sheriff’s office, my role expanded to other non-law enforcement first responders. EMS, public health, the fire service, and I had an opportunity to move here with the encouragement of Gary Gunderson to start a program at the hospital and it really made sense to think of how more effective this program could be at a level one trauma center and not simply leave it in a law enforcement agency. So I was able to add some staff once I’m here a little over two years now, and we’re growing and that service population is growing along with us.

Emily Viverette

Emily Viverette

Viverette: Well, there are lots of different pieces of that that we’ll probably get back to. I’m curious, because you mentioned level one trauma center and it making sense for it to be based here. How does that make sense to you and why does a hospital think it’s a good idea?

Davis: Well, for me it made lots of sense because over that long tenure with law enforcement, I was coming in and out of the ED every week, if not daily, often after hours when trauma would occur in the community either to a victim of crime or to a first responder, and this is where they sought treatment and just the traffic of all those groups in and out of the hospital was such that this became, in my mind, like the nerve center of all of that. It also was a neutral place to encounter them and interact with them because they were outside of their own respective agency and were here at the hospital. The agency see value in it because now this program is more accessible to more first responder groups as opposed to being owned by one agency. So, it’s our mission to serve all of these different agencies, not just one.

Viverette: We’ll talk a little bit about funding a little later, but I’m curious … I don’t know how many people listening know what your job looks like, and asking about a typical day might not make a lot of sense, but what do you do in your role? What does it look like?

Davis: I actually get asked that a lot and my quickest answer is to tell people, or to ask them, rather, “What do you think a chaplain does?” If I have some sense they know what a hospital chaplain does, I’ll say, “Now put wheels under that person,” because this is mobile chaplaincy and we’re responding to a variety of contexts outside the walls of the hospital. So we may deploy from here or deploy to some location in the hospital to deal with a crisis, but just as easily be called out to the community to do a death notification, to assist a responder that has been exposed to trauma and really can go wherever we’re needed. So that’s probably one of the most unique aspects of this role versus conventional chaplaincy as most people think of it.

Viverette: I had the great benefit of supervising Aaron Eaton who was a chaplain resident who’s now one of your staff members when he was doing a CP residence here, and he was placed with your program, and I learned a lot about the differences between chaplaincy in the hospital and first responder community chaplaincy. So, I’m curious … One of the things that struck me was how uncontrolled the situations were in some ways, or un-contained, the situations you get called into. So, is there a typical story you could tell about what you get pulled into that might be somewhat surprising for even a hospital chaplain to think about differently?

Davis: First of all, let me say I’m so grateful to have Aaron onboard now as a full-time member of our team, but I think one thing that’s been really unique just in the last few years First responder chaplainsis the increase in opioid related deaths. So, to respond to a heroin overdose in the community and address the chaos of that scene in terms of not just the bereaved family members but neighbors, if it’s a workplace, coworkers and then a multi-agency response. Law enforcement, fire service, EMS, to that event just creates an environment where the opportunities to help are just immense. So, we do a lot of triaging there to see who needs help first. A lot of referrals afterward.

The other thing that Aaron could speak to also is … Two things actually, very unique, is one is a level of sensory exposure on those calls. What you actually see when you’re at the location where the death has occurred, and just the raw nature of that. The grief of the family. The reactions of the young responders who perhaps that could be their first call of that nature given its violence or outcome, and the other piece would be just the context. All the different variables that make this more difficult and challenging to handle. If you compare it to the hospital where there are usual features of that environment that would give you a sense of safety … If this is the middle of the night, if it’s adverse weather, if you don’t know where you’re going until you get there, all of those are unique elements, but I think that and just the fact that it is outside the walls of the medical center make it very unique.

Viverette: I can’t imagine being called in to some of the situations that you’ve been called into in over 27 years now. How do you all take care of yourselves?

Davis: Well, great question, and one that I am really revisiting a lot with them and with our new resident who’s just come onboard. We can’t sustain the quality of our work if we don’t make that a huge priority, so my message to them and one I hope to mentor for them is we do a lot of journaling. In one sense it’s documentation to capture the validity and importance of what we do, but that process helps us to assist one another and ourselves. Every intervention, I think, is a learning laboratory for us, so we want that toolbox to expand every time we go on a call, but in the discussion of that in our team meetings, we also are hoping that’s an outlet for one another, because it is unique.

I think you could be a chaplain in this environment a long time and never see the amount of death and the sensory exposure that you could encounter in just a week or two in this role. In fact, Aaron’s first call was quite traumatic and with a lot of intentionality and permission from him, I very carefully exposed him to some of that as part of his training. The value of that is that you can’t work with a first responder and hear them share with you some of these deep concerns they have about the nature of their work if you don’t have some small appreciation for what it’s like to see that. You can’t simply read about it or hear it described. You need to know what it’s like to be in that environment. That’s been very helpful.

Viverette: It’s great to hear just your intentionality around self-care. Helping professionals in general are not very good at that, but particularly in the intensity of this environment, to be able to share that with the staff and really lift that up is really important. Now, we’ve alluded to different members of your staff. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about what’s the structure of the program? How many folks do you have working with you? And who do you serve?

Davis: Sure. I’m the leader of this brave team. Dana Patrick is our first full-time staff chaplain to come onboard. Aaron has just come onboard in a full-time spot. Jesus Dominguez is our new chaplain resident, so three full-time and then this resident whose clinical time of approximately 20 hours a week will be devoted to the program. We are landing in different places in the course of a week. Jesus, of course because he’s a student, is anchored here most of his half days but we are roving between EMS, the public safety center which is where the sheriff’s office is located and the hospital and the reason for that is to deploy quickly and not concentrate our resources in one place. So, we’re preparing to do even more of that as we, in the next few weeks, bring on as many as 2,000 more county employees that will be part of our service population. So we will not be as embedded with them as we are currently with law enforcement but we will be triaging when they encounter critical incidents and trauma.

Viverette: I think that’s really interesting, the kind of moving out to county employees. Could you say a little bit about how that developed and what you mean by that?

FaithHealth PodcastDavis: Yes, great question. In the last few weeks as we’ve expanded the original service agreement between the medial center and Forsyth County, the county manager’s office and others, HR, realize that we can either limit this to what could be considered pure first responders, fire, law enforcement, EMS, or we could acknowledge the reality that any county employee, even a volunteer in the course of their daily activities at work or being en route to work could experience a traumatic event or witness one, so they began to be more inclusive with that term first responders to realize that all of us are subject to being exposed in that way. So, they want some safeguards for all their employees, and it’s a really nice gesture for them to value their workforce in that way to have a resource that can be accessible and be mobile and can come to them when they need help.

Viverette: So, a lot of your work is crisis response. What is the work in between the crises?

Davis: The two ends of the spectrum, there’s the critical piece, the crisis response piece that you mention, but we have many opportunities to do some proactive, what I think of as pre-incident education, to go to churches, to go to workplaces, to go to the first responder groups, new hire orientations, and help people bolster their crisis response skills. Really, their immunity to crisis and trauma, and I think what we were already seeing happen, and I’ve seen over the years, is that that attempt to improve resiliency for individuals in workplaces creates a more empathetic workplace so that peers begin to care more for themselves and one another. Supervisors start to demonstrate that same empathy, and it changes the nature of the workplace, not that we are now somehow exempt from traumatic events, but we feel a greater capacity to help one another and we know how to access help when we need it.

Viverette: I really love that image. Just the paralleling or kind of the blossoming empathy where people are better able to … I don’t know if it’s building immunity but developing resiliency for trauma. I’m really curious. So, how do you think about … what do you teach people or what do you train people to help build those resiliency skills or potential for meeting crisis in advance?

Davis: For one is to teach them some self-care skills and to learn for that unique work environment… For example, a first responder is gonna have a much higher level of exposure to sensory events than some other county employee would, but to meet them where they are and fill the voids that aren’t being met now, it’s amazing how much a first responder will be trained in a wide variety of other skills, be given elaborate, highly technical equipment but nowhere in their basic training are they taught how to care for themselves after a career of cumulative traumatic events. “What will happen to me? How will my life, my retirement change? How will this work go home and impact my family?”

I think there’s a parallel with that, even with chaplains, that we don’t have a toggle switch we can flip and work in home or separate. One travels with the other, but I think meeting them where they are and again, augmenting what they’re already doing correctly. I’m finding that particularly with first responder agencies but other departments, they need to actually develop protocols and policies that make these real programs in their workplaces and not just things we talk about. So, to me, the overarching umbrella for a lot of this is wellness. So if an organization has anything like a wellness policy, then where is your capacity within that to care for one another when trauma happens. How do you deal with any emergency in the workplace and employees that have needs rather than simply looking at how to reprimand them or discipline them. What are some early interventions that a chapter can do?

The key to all of this, I think, is being embedded and building trust. You just can’t walk in the door and command that. You have to earn it, and first responders, as we’ve said many times before, are very slow to dispense trust, but once you gain it, they’re your best friend and ally. They have to be distrustful simply to do the very difficult jobs they do.

Viverette: Yeah, trust comes up in almost every one of these conversations as being such the heart of the work that we’re doing. I always think of it like a Jenga game. It takes a while to build the tower but it doesn’t take very much for that tower to topple and how important it is to nurture that in relationships no matter where we are in FaithHealth, so, wow. Well, I’m wondering, stories are always the best. Could you say another story about the work that you’ve done that kind of stands out as epitomizing this is what we are called to do and how we’re called to be in this work?

Davis: I think there are many of them. One unique opportunity I’ve been privileged to have over the years and now my team does is the ability to follow up with families. So, what we might think of as hit and run care where we show up at a scene or we’re there at the worst moment of their lives, we can now revisit a family. One case that comes to mind is a young man who died of an overdose. We were at his home in the immediate aftermath of that. We were able to go back and visit with the parents on a second visit. That was very helpful, and then myself, I personally went back with the detective who was assigned that case to go over the medical examiner report with that family.

So, three different encounters there that all, I think, enhanced that bond with that family. That, for me, looking back on my CPE experience was very different from the times when I would walk a family to the parking lot with their bag of personal belongings and wish them well and pray that they had helped on the other end. So we do now, given our growing capacity, I think hope to do more of that, where we can actually follow up with these broken families and responders who need our help.

Viverette: That’s one of the things that stood out to me when I was working with Aaron, that he had the opportunity to reach out or call, and they could actually call him. They were given information where they could call him, and I never experienced it as being more than a few times, but it was like a cushion and perhaps there was a way he could connect them with ongoing care even beyond kind of the window that he worked with them.

Davis: Yes, it’s a great link to be able to put families in touch with other resources. We, as you might suspect, often find families who have no affiliation with a faith community, may not have great neighborhoods. I’ve often said neighborhoods … the term’s a misnomer. Lots of neighborhoods don’t have neighbors, so if we could find out where their support is and try to enhance that, that’s always a good thing, and I think the connections we have with the responder agencies help us try to track those resources too, and find out where those gaps are, and we’re blessed to have all the other resources of the medical center to turn to when we encounter a situation that requires specialized help.

Viverette: I imagine there might be people listening who want to know, “Well, how can I do this? What kind of training is required?” How do you respond to those questions?

Davis: Well, we’ve been operating thus far with what I think is a good precedent to at least have a year of CPE which is just a really good introduction to chaplaincy, and then I think we’re in the process, I am, my team of building a curriculum. Currently with our new resident, I am giving him in a matter of the next few weeks everything I’ve learned. Just real experiences to prepare him for what he might encounter, so I think we’re really looking at just another innovative program for sure and a curriculum to prepare chaplains to do this unique kind of work.

I would say also it’s not for the fainthearted or someone who is looking for something that is without risk or some danger. Again, returning to the self-care question, it’s crucial to have some longevity in this kind of work and so I’m excited about where we can go, and hope more chaplains will consider doing this.

Viverette: So, funding is always an issue. People are probably listening, say, “How on earth do you all pay for this and get the hospital buy in and all that it’s taken?” I mean, now that you’ve gone from being the only one on staff to having two plus [inaudible 00:19:23] … I mean, so you are successfully building this program. How might other people think about doing the same thing in their community? Well, if the current sheriff were here, Sheriff Bill [Schatzman 00:19:32], he would say he’s still got Glen and then some, so the agency, agency heads, first responder agencies all benefit by now getting access to a team of chaplains versus sharing one.

Davis: That’s the plus for them and they know they have competent training on the med center side to give them, the individuals that can do that work … I think it’s very important for those first responder agencies to get to know their local hospitals, especially major medical centers, and tie into those chaplaincy programs to grow something like this. It’s that network that I think makes this viable.

Viverette: So, how is this funded? What are some of the pots of money? That’s one of the innovative pieces too, is that this is cross-funding. It’s not a single … It’s not like the hospital’s paying for the whole program, although it’s paying for a lot.

Davis: Yeah. The sheriff’s office has continued to provide some equipment, a vehicle, some technology. We’re in active discussions now that our program’s growing with more county departments to explore cost sharing and how to find other pools of money including county money and other money to buy things like vehicles, computers, phones, office space, all the things we need to grow. So I think there are definitely some funding streams there. We’re in the process of working those out.

Viverette: What do you see as some of the barriers possibly of getting this off the ground, or what are some of kind of the critical people other than the medical centers that you need to talk with in developing this first responder program?

Davis: Well, the key persons within the community to at least have their blessing or endorsement are the heads of the first responder agencies. The city county managers, and I would even include in that network the local school systems. All of the people who have a vested interest in protecting families, children, promoting public health and wellness. So I really don’t think there is any organization that we can’t tie into. I think the risks that are out there would be if the program becomes personality centered or limited to any one agency. Again, back to that question of why is a level one trauma center a great place to anchor it, is because this is where all of those agencies converge when trauma occurs.

So this is the safest place, I think, to build out, but I’ve often described it as being hospital based but community focused. We’re not limited by the walls of the hospital and I would say that that population that’s forever moving and changing that we’re serving is a parish without walls. Just a unique group of people doing incredible work that deserve and need support.

Viverette: I know that one of the … Because I’ve kind of been adjacent to this work, I haven’t been fully involved with it, but in developing the contracts, I remember there were some … There was a lot of conversation about the word “chaplain” in a contract. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share a little bit about that, because I bet there’ll be other people that would run into that too.

Davis: Absolutely, and what we found out that shouldn’t surprise anyone is there’s much confusion in this community and I would suspect most communities about what is a chaplain? What is clinical pastoral education? What do chaplains do? I’ve found in almost every instance that we were able to quickly put folks’ anxiety to rest and answer that question we tell them we’re about caring for the whole person, and even for those who express no faith or are without any connections to a faith community. So, that quickly dissipated when we had those candid discussions, but I do think we have an ongoing need to reeducate the community about the value of chaplains and how chaplaincy is not limited to the hospital. There are many avenues to do work off campus and in the community, so we welcome those conversations. They’ve been very helpful.

Viverette: I do think that’s one of the exciting pieces of the program, is that we have more and more chaplains that have a foot outside the hospital, if not both feet outside the hospital. We talked with Jay Foster earlier and he mentioned some of the different roles including this program, but didn’t go into the depth that you’ve gone into. One of the questions that goes back to funding, I realize wasn’t terribly clear, is the idea of salaries. So, who pays the salaries of the different staff members in your program?

Davis: The new service agreement expansion that is going into effect now is paying one of the staff chaplain’s salaries and buying some small equipment items. The foundation money from the hospital is another source of that funding, and we’re continuously looking for how to expand that and develop it more.

Viverette: Yeah, I think that was really exciting when the county agreed to pick up a salary. That was a great piece of help and it says a lot about their investment in the program.

Davis: It does, and that’s a product of their growing understanding of what chaplains do, particularly in comparison to what a typical contract EAP program does. Not how one supplants the other, but how they’re very different. A chaplain that can provide mobile crisis response to a home or a workplace, hospital visitation, all those things is very different from what your traditional employee assistance provider would do.

Viverette: We’re probably getting close to wrap up time but is there something I haven’t asked you that you’re like, “Oh, I really hope we get to talk about this before we wrap up”?

Davis: I think you’ve touched on it, but I would love to see us become more involved in CPE students’ lives, their training, for a couple of reasons, one of which is selfish, is to encourage them to consider this as a place to move further along in their chaplaincy work, and the other is just to preserve and nurture that important tie to the medical center, that I think that’s part of the roots of this being successful and staying healthy and to grow out of that, let that be the hub. The other piece I think that’s really interesting to look at that’s happening now too is expansion to the community hospitals. I think one of the next steps will be to have some offshoot of this work at our other locations and that’s gonna be helpful for us because we’re often called out of this county or to follow a case that takes us to a family in another region of the state. We need resources there that are competent and can do the same thing we’re doing here.

Viverette: Yeah, there is no end to where first responder chaplains could go or where they might be needed. For some reason what came back to my mind too is often one of the good things for chaplains inside the walls is you all are great resources for referrals too. There’s a nice blending of … We’ll get a call from one of your staff that says, “Can you check on whoever it might be?” So that’s been kind of a nice …

Davis: Yes, that’s gonna continue to happen especially with the new group of students when they are on call. We now want to be able to access them very quickly in the middle of the night if we’re out and the case we’re dealing with is coming into the medical center, either a patient or a family member is en route here. Another part of this work that I think is very unique and I would say it’s just a key attribute a first responder chaplain needs is the ability to switch cultures, to move out of a medical center setting where typically a chaplain is not the one to deliver a traumatic message or particularly not to tell a family that a death has occurred. That very much is your role in the first responder culture where the water is almost part when they see the chaplain coming, and they’re multitasking dealing with the myriad of things they’re having to do, but they’re so grateful for the chaplain to be there for that family and be the one to impart that news and then to provide them care and bring in other resources.

Davis: So that capacity to switch and wear all those hats and literally you can move from one incident in the community back to the hospital and the moment you enter the hospital doors your role as a chaplain changes. We seem to have handled that switch very well so far. The hospital even appreciates it.

Viverette: Well you do wear two different badges.

Davis: Absolutely.

Viverette: You have an inside the walls badge and an outside the walls badge.

Davis: Yeah, we have security clearances to go into all the first responder agencies and again, part of that trust building and access and dealing with a lot of sensitive information that parallels the patient health information in the hospital, but we’re containing all that and always mindful, though, of which world we’re operating in at that moment, but it’s really brought some interesting people together to work on all these challenges we encounter.

Viverette: Well, I’m so glad for the opportunity to have this conversation and I have no doubt that kind of the really rapid growth of the program has a lot to do with your depth and history with the county already. I mean, it would be a lot to expect this much to have happened this fast if we didn’t already have a connection with such a trusted person, so thanks, Glen, for being with us today.

Davis: I appreciate this opportunity very much. I’ve enjoyed it.

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