Chaplaincy Care in the MICU: Describing the Spiritual Care Provided to MICU Patients and Families at the End of Life

Dirk Labuschagne, Alexia Torke, Daniel Grossoehme, Katie Rimer, Martha Rucker, Kristen Schenk, James Slaven, George Fitchett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Gravely ill patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), and their families experience acute spiritual and existential needs and often require complex decisions about their care. Little is known about what constitutes chaplaincy care for patients or families in ICUs. Chaplains report that participation in medical decision-making is part of their role. Objective: To describe the spiritual care provided to patients and their families in the ICU. Methods: This was a retrospective observational study of spiritual care for patients and families in the medical ICUs (MICUs) at 4 medical centers over a 3-month period. Inclusion criteria were death in the MICU or discharge to palliative care or hospice. Measures included medical, treatment, and spiritual care information (number of visits, length of visit, chaplain categories, and type of spiritual care provided). Results: Of the 254 patients, 197 (78%) received a total of 485 spiritual care visits. Seventy-seven percent of visits included provision of emotional/spiritual support; only 15% included decision-making support such as family meetings or goals-of-care conversations. The proportion receiving spiritual care increased as patients neared death or discharge. Staff chaplains were involved in goals-of-care conversations to a greater extent than student or part-time chaplains (P <.05). Conclusion: Spiritual care was provided to most patients and/or families at the end of life. Low chaplain involvement in decision-making in the MICU suggests opportunities to improve chaplains’ contributions to ICU care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1044
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • chaplain
  • decision-making
  • end-of-life care
  • intensive care
  • palliative care
  • spiritual care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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