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Alabama Hospitals Run Out Of ICU Beds. Chaplain Says It's A Frightening Situation

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now let's hear from another voice grappling with this surge in Alabama. Reverend Moneka Thompson is a staff chaplain at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. Reverend, welcome.

MONEKA THOMPSON: Thank you.

MARTINEZ: We just heard from several exhausted hospital workers in Alabama. Can you take us inside the hospital? What's the situation there like right now?

THOMPSON: So they have a very understandable frustration. This is a frightening - it is a overwhelming situation. Our staff are doing the best they can given the circumstances. And my role as the chaplain is to support, not only the patients, their caregivers or loved ones, and also our staff, our medical staff and team, who are absolutely some of the hardest working people in this entire country right now.

MARTINEZ: We just heard voices. I mean, they - to me, they just sounded exhausted, tired, frustrated. How is the staff holding up where you're at?

THOMPSON: So they absolutely are exhausted. They are frustrated. They are understandably angry. And so I think it is helpful for me to be that supportive presence for them as well as the rest of our staff chaplain team here and our counselors who work here at UAB. We have the opportunity to check in with them on a daily basis to offer those words of encouragement, to help them deal with the moral injury that this event is causing them.

MARTINEZ: You're right there in the mix, too. How do you stay supportive when I'm sure you're tired as well?

THOMPSON: So we are understandably all tired. And so for me, my faith is important for me. And I utilize it through prayer, through my personal meditation time, through listening to meditative music and writing. And I encourage my medical staff and team to do some of the same practices or utilize whatever non-religious or other practices may give them meaning and validation.

MARTINEZ: On that, has your work changed over the course of the pandemic? And I'm wondering if maybe in the last recent weeks, considering how the numbers have surged, has anything been different for you?

THOMPSON: So we are seeing significantly more COVID patients now than what we were about two months ago. So - and again, many of those families are not allowed to come in-person to see them. And so offering support just to the patient in person and offering that telephone support to those family members who are not allowed to see them - so it's a bit of a dual role.

MARTINEZ: Considering how long this has gone on, I mean, when you talk to relatives and friends of people who are in dire straits, I mean, what do you say to them? This has gone on far longer than I think anyone thought it would.

THOMPSON: You know, my heart absolutely goes out to them. I offer them my deepest condolences for how the patient may, unfortunately, not be progressing. And many of them - as was just aired in the interview with the previous physicians, many of the patients and their families - they still don't believe that this is real. They still believe this is a lie. And it's just amazing to see the lack of belief in the midst of everything that they're facing. And so I'm trying my best to be encouraging to them when it is a very bleak situation. And so it's very difficult, to be quite frank with you.

MARTINEZ: It is amazing, though, right? You mention belief, and that ties into faith and having faith that this will be over. But for some people, they don't have faith that this is even really happening, when it is.

THOMPSON: Right. That's correct. So many of them still do not believe. And unfortunately, the vast majority of the patients that we have now are not vaccinated. And some have been asking for vaccination at this point that, unfortunately, is too late.

MARTINEZ: What would you like to see and hear from leaders in your state?

THOMPSON: You know, I wish - I understand the mask mandate is so polarizing. Vaccination mandate is so polarizing. But I wish we had some standard where we could encourage at least a mask mandate at this point. Because we are in such dire straits in health care. And who is coming to rescue us?

MARTINEZ: Reverend Moneka Thompson is a staff chaplain at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. Reverend, thank you very much for taking the time.

THOMPSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.