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“We are blessed to be a blessing,” said Lonnie Briseño, the new director of Memorial Medical Center’s (MMC) Pastoral Care Department (PCD).
Pastoral care is part of MMC’s effort “to take care of all four aspects of what it means to be a human,” Briseño said, including the heart, mind, body and soul. The program “brings God’s love and compassion daily to all our patients here,” he said.
“At Memorial Medical Center, our primary goal is to provide our patients with quality care, to the very best of our abilities,” said MMC CEO John Harris. “As such, pastoral care has always played a vital role in patient care. Whether helping patients on their path to recovery or counseling families and friends going through the grieving process for a lost loved one, pastoral care provides a calm and reassuring presence to all who enter our facilities. Meeting the spiritual needs of our patients is fundamental to the healing process and we are grateful for Lonnie Briseño at MMC.”
Briseño became PCD director last August after the retirement of Rev. Dr. Margaret Short, who started the program at MMC 26 years ago. Pastoral care is available for all MMC patients, regardless of faith. The MMC chapel is open to patients, families and hospital staff. Except for Briseño, all PCD participants are volunteers.
“It’s what we do,” said volunteer chaplain Brian Harvey, pastor of Bethel Second Baptist Church in Las Cruces.
Harvey recently joined PCD and makes weekly visits to MMC patients, family members and staff who are “in need of compassion (and) support,” he said. “You’re doing what the Lord requires.” Harvey has lived in Las Cruces for eight years and in New Mexico for 34 years. He is the former chaplain of the Albuquerque Police Department.
During each hospital visit, “I’ve picked up a gem,” Harvey said, “people I’ve really connected with.”
Pastor Emeritus John Powell of the First Evangelical Free Church has been an MMC volunteer chaplain for 42 years and helped start PCD.
The program has been “significant for the hospital and the community,” Powell said. And the transition in leadership from Short to Briseño “has been gratifying as well,” he said.
“Unique gifts from God” helped to build the department, Powell said, and Briseño and volunteer pastors and others are now rebuilding it after Covid-19 stopped hospital visits.
“I’m glad to see that it’s continuing,” Powell said, adding that hospital staff “has been positively affected all these years” by the program, as well as patients and family members who are dealing with traumatic experiences and in need of palliative care.
Because he, Briseño and others in the program are Spanish speakers, Powell said, volunteer chaplains have been able to minister to patients and families in their first language.
“Patients appreciate someone with a badge who is accepted by the hospital to come and speak to them privately,” he said.
MMC’s volunteer pastors “provide an inspired word to help (patients) know they’re not alone, to be able to bring God to them in a difficult time,” said Roman Catholic eucharistic minister Ray Reta, who has been volunteering with the program for the past four months.
“I’ve never really done this type of ministry before,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Reta said he has “very thankful” for the experience and appreciates that MMC incorporates spiritual care along with seeing to the physical needs of patients.
“The staff here has been really incredible, very accommodating,” Reta said.
“I’m blessed to rub shoulders with people who bring compassion and love to others,” Briseño said. “It changes you. It gives you a different perspective.”
Briseño came to the pastoral care program “by the grace of God,” he said. After losing two family close members, dealing with the sick and dying was something he wanted to avoid.
“God has a sense of humor,” he said. “Here’s where I went.”
PCD has five active volunteer chaplains and 40 total volunteers, Briseño said. He wants to add 10 more chaplains and more lay visitors.
Volunteer chaplains would be on call twice a month and available to come to the hospital as requested, Briseño said.
Anyone interested in being a lay visitor should work through his or her church to apply, he said. He or she is subject to a background check and must complete an online orientation program and hospital visit and be available to visit patients one day a week.
To volunteer and for more information, contact Briseño at 575-521-5579.