As ASK’s chaplain, Rich Catlett sees every day the many stresses that having a child with cancer can put on a family. But as Covid isolation and concerns continue, and opportunities for ASK families to connect with the outside world are diminished by treatments and extended hospital stays, Rich knows that new mental health challenges are developing and deep fatigue is growing.
For three years, Rich has served every family that is treated in the ASK Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond. Serving as the chaplain in a previous job, he was accustomed to helping children and families with chronic illnesses and end-of-life care. However, when Covid hit, Rich noticed that the isolation for ASK families became even more significant. “We no longer had a connection point for parents in Clinic or through in-person ASK events,” explains Rich, “and we began to see a new level of anxiety among patients, families and staff. These families need a lifeline in others who truly understand their struggles. This population needs connection to get through the day."
Rich knew that these connections needed to be more deliberate and began coordinating “happy hours” for Clinic staff where they could get coffee and a treat, and just talk at a distance. He began encouraging parents to take time for themselves and do something as simple as taking the long way home to help clear their heads. “Self-care is so important if we truly want to be helpful to others,” says Rich. “It’s hard for these parents to care for themselves when their child is so sick.” To promote his own self-care, Rich started getting therapeutic massages with an oncology certified massage therapist. He found himself wishing that ASK parents could have the same opportunity to unwind, but knew that time, money, and scheduling would make this impossible for some. So he thought: “What if we just make it happen? What if this could be one more service that ASK can offer?”
The response from families was overwhelming. Rich converted the Children's Corner in the ASK office into a peaceful atmosphere where parents were able to feel compassion and care for themselves. “There’s something so therapeutic about human touch that allows us to clear our minds and be reminded of our humanity. We want to constantly provide better care for our patients and our families, and it’s my hope that a monthly massage day will become one more regular service that ASK provides,” says Rich.
While mental health issues continue to evolve in this ever-changing environment, Rich credits his faith and his colleagues with the ability to meet the needs of patients and families. His typical day is anything but typical, and he purposely doesn’t schedule his day so he can adapt to whatever situation may present itself. “Some days, I care for all staff and some days, my care is directed to only patients and parents. This is doable because my faith sustains me, and because we work as a team in the ASK Clinic. We all work on spiritual, medical and emotional care. We all support one another and that helps us deal and cope with our environment.”