At-home spiritual support for whole person care

Marjorie* was a Medicaid member in Texas who needed a lot of support for her complex conditions. She was often in the hospital for dialysis and she also had regular panic attacks. As a member of the Texas Complex Care program, she was provided with access to a team that could address her health care needs holistically. Besides having a care coordinator, part of her care team included a chaplain who called her over the phone to check in. 

“When I call, I introduce myself and say, ‘Look, we work on behalf of UnitedHealthcare,” said Brian Hughes, a board-certified chaplain with UnitedHealthcare. “We recognize that what’s happening to you right now on the medical and physical side also has an emotional and spiritual impact, as well. And we want to make sure that we’re looking after and taking care of those things.”

The telechaplaincy program, established in 2018, is integrated into the member experience. When the care coordinator (who is also a registered nurse) learns about a member’s needs, they also try to identify if a member is in “spiritual distress.” This distress may come about when a member tries to make sense of their own medical journey — one that may be long and difficult.

It’s also important to understand that “spiritual support” is centered on the member’s own experience, and accessible to anyone regardless of religion or beliefs. As the program defines it, spiritual support involves searching for meaning, exploring values and finding purpose – all of which are things where it can be helpful to talk to someone knowledgeable in that field. 

With up to five 30-minute sessions, Brian is able to help assess the hopes and needs of the member and connect them to resources that may assist them. After the calls are completed, he remains in close contact with the service coordinator to relay the outcomes and what the next steps might be for the member. 

While the health plan has received positive feedback and appreciation from members, it has also continued to monitor clinical outcomes. And the team has noticed in preliminary results that the spiritual support can be a factor in helping to reduce the ER visits of participants.

For Marjorie, the spiritual support has been a big asset as one part of her overall care coordination, particularly in regard to her emotional state and an ability to feel more hopeful. Physically, she’s showing improvements. She’s walking without a walker and cooking for herself for the first time in roughly eight months. She’s also free of panic attacks. 

Her next goal is to attend her daughter’s graduation next year, and to stand with her for her prom pictures. By getting help with all aspects of her care — including the spiritual side — Marjorie is closer to making that dream a reality. 

*Name changed to protect the member’s privacy.