When Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye received a request for tallit and tefillin from a COVID-19 patient, he responded immediately, securing the traditional Jewish prayer garments from a fellow rabbi in his community and providing a personal set to the patient for the duration of his hospital stay. Two months later, the patient was discharged from the intensive care unit.
As the chaplain at Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colo., for the past 20 years, Kaye, ’87, is situated at the intersection of health and faith in a line of work rooted in interpersonal patient interactions. Typically, he would spend each day visiting with patients and their loved ones and doing extensive outreach across the hospital community. But under the litany of safety regulations accompanying the spreading virus, Kaye’s usual method of patient communication was upended, presenting him with a distinct set of challenges.
When the first surge of cases hit Denver in mid-March, Kaye says the hospital shifted dramatically from its full range of services to an almost exclusive focus on COVID-19 emergency care. From then through May, 80 percent to 90 percent of admissions at Rose Medical Center were COVID-related.
‘You must always remember the uniqueness and sacredness of each and every person.’
The transformation of inpatient rooms into COVID-ready isolation units meant that Kaye could no longer visit patients in person. Instead, now he stands on the other side of the rooms’ glass walls and speaks with patients with the help of FaceTime and a geared-up nurse. While Kaye admits that the situation is not ideal, he insists that maintaining a connection with each patient is important.
“Never forget the humanity,” Kaye says. “You must always remember the uniqueness and sacredness of each and every person.”
It is this attitude that Kaye carries into his other responsibilities as the main contact for staff support and as chair of the hospital’s clinical bioethics committee.
On a daily basis, Kaye now visits every floor of the building to check in with as many workers as possible before he shares a moment of gratitude over the speaker system, thanking the entire hospital staff.
“This has been a new ritual for the past number of months, and it was a way to hit a lot of people,” Kaye says.
With the bioethics committee, Kaye oversees an interdisciplinary group of physicians, nurses, case managers, chaplains, administrators, therapists and community members concerned with navigating intricate health-care decisions, including end-of-life wishes. The committee has spent much time preparing emergency protocols in the event there’s another surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I think as we move forward there needs to be a very thoughtful balance of being very aware and conscious about a second wave, and opening things up so people are less isolated and mental and physical health issues are being addressed more comprehensively,” Kaye says.
Even as cases continue to rise nationwide, Kaye remains optimistic, citing the steady rate of births at Rose Medical Center throughout the pandemic as a source of hope. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Kaye also loves what he does.
“I feel I have the absolute best and most meaningful, fulfilling job in the world.”
Andrew Tan, ’22, is an editorial intern at Stanford. Email him at email@example.com.