In times of disaster many systems are engaged to respond to the needs that arise. Security and medical issues are understandably top priorities. However, literature shows that psycho-spiritual needs are also high and they too require quick intervention to ensure immediate stabilization as well as to lay the groundwork for long-term healing. (G Brenner, D Bush, & J Moses (Eds), Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience: Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work. NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis). In the everyday function of a hospital the existing spiritual care staff is sufficient. The surge of patients during a disaster will likely overwhelm the system unless measures are in place and additional, pre-screened, well trained, spiritual caregivers are ready to respond. The Emergency Spiritual Care Assistance Team (ESCAT) was created to address this need. ESCAT consists of staff chaplains and specially trained spiritual care volunteers and community faith leaders who are ready to respond when needed. ESCAT is a piece that fits into the hospital’s existing disaster response plan. The Ottawa Hospital values religious and spiritual support as part of comprehensive patient care on a daily basis. Through ESCAT, we are able to augment spiritual care services with well-trained, additional spiritual caregivers during times of disaster.
ESCAT consists of a written plan called an Incident Management System. (That’s disaster response language, not spiritual care language. It’s important that chaplains become bilingual in this effort.) We recruit applicants from local faith communities. We screen them for skills, experience and suitability for working in an interfaith context with vulnerable populations. We provide 3 days of training and we ensure that TB and security screenings are complete. On the occasions when ESCAT has been activated we have received positive feedback from both clients and colleagues. We’ve created a Guide which helps other hospitals create an ESCAT program that accommodates their resources and suits the spiritual needs and demographics of the populations they serve. We have received requests for information about our ESCAT program from 25 hospitals across North America. A workshop based on our ESCAT Guide was well received at the 2017 Association for Professional Chaplains Conference in Houston.