BARRIE, ONT. -- Marjorie Marshall and her husband Peter were married for nearly 40 years. When Peter battled illness and Alzheimers at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, his wife was by his side until COVID-19 hit.

"As of March 17, I couldn't see him," she says. "But they had activity coordinators that did virtual visits. Catherine, the spiritual advisor, she had a great rapport with Peter."

Marjorie says in the last year of her husband's life, with visitor restrictions at the Barrie hospital, the Spiritual Care Team made all the difference.

"They come from a very positive place, and we actually got to be very good friends. She (Catherine) actually officiated Peter's funeral," she says.

Since the pandemic, the Spiritual Care Team has been extremely busy trying to keep families connected and involved.

"The biggest thing is lack of visitors, and I would add lack of volunteers," says Catherine Ruiz-Gomar, spiritual care clinician.

Ruiz-Gomar says most of her days were filled with focusing on dying patients who were alone since the COVID-19 protocol restricted visitors. "All my patients were death and dying. For a while, I was, five or six a day, and then it was eight a day, and you go from one to the next."

Ruiz-Gomar says it became essential to connect with the families, allowing them to be a part of everything.

"When I meet a patient, sometimes they were nonresponsive. So I will call the family and say, 'What is important to this person? What would they like? What would they appreciate?' And then we will do what we can to connect," she says.

The care team cannot visit every patient at the hospital, but they try to connect with as many as possible.

There are currently seven students with the team as part of a Clinical Pastoral Education program designed to teach the theory and practice of spiritual caregiving.

RVH says patients and their families don't have to be religious to benefit from the Spiritual Care Team. To connect with the team, contact the patient's nurse or doctor.