Yes, Chaplains can have an astounding penchant for naiveté. It is characterized by a lack of discernment and understanding of the human condition. Naiveté can lead to serious boundary violations. In hospice, the Chaplain can be immersed in a number of challenging situations, many that deal with gifts of appreciation. Since a Chaplain more than likely has come into hospice work from a pastoral type of setting where congregations give gifts at holiday times and other special days, the Chaplain must be aware of the possible challenges with accepting gifts. For example, Hank is a hospice Chaplain. For some reason that is not clear, one of Hank’s elderly patients wants to give him an extra computer printer that he has. When Hank comes to visit, the patient has the printer packaged in a box and ready for him. Hank accepts the gift without reservation. He doesn’t really need a printer, but if he doesn’t find a use for it, he will just give it to his neighbor. It seems innocent enough—after all, it is just a computer printer. However, several days later, the patient’s son calls the executive director of the hospice for which Hank works and is nothing short of irate. He tells the executive director that he just found out his father has given one of the staff the computer printer and in the box, along with it, was $100 in cash. The son wants the money and the printer returned immediately. (adapted from http://www.nhpco.org/sites/default/files/public/newsline/2011/Oct11_NL.pdf) Put yourself in the place of the executive director…He has to confront Hank. He did. Hank stated there wasn’t $100 in the box. How could Hank prove that? He opened the box by himself when no one else witnessed it. And, he did not report the gift to his Team Manager. As a result, there was $100 missing and a computer printer that needed to be returned. What a conundrum! Who would repay the $100? (in the Comment Section, tell me what you think should be done to repay the $100) What would the executive director do to resolve the issue? Hank received a written reprimand for violating boundaries. Solution: Know your organization’s policy on gifts and never, ever, violate the policy. Remember, you are not in the pastorate any longer. You are in a professional place of business that has policies and procedures.
Based on the above, the Chaplain must shed his or her naiveté and be aware of the potential for problems.
Here are several wise guidelines to keep yourself out of boundary violations:
- Do I know my company’s policy for accepting gifts? If you don’t, find out right away.
- Could I discuss my patient interactions with my Team or would I need to omit some of the patient/Chaplain interaction because it had to do with a boundary violation?
- Do not see your patients after work hours for any reason.
- Do not engage in any business related endeavors with a patient or patient’s family ever.
- Never withhold information from your Team Manager about a gift. Example: A patient that I had had a particularly good relationship with was an artist. His skills had diminished due to his illness but he desired for me to have a painting. I thanked him and told him the organization’s policy on gifts and told him I would explain the offer of the painting to my supervisor. I met face to face with my supervisor and explained the gift offer. I was given permission to accept the gift. I then told that to the patient on my next regularly scheduled visit. That painting adorns my office.
At your next Chaplain’s meeting, discuss the matter of gifts. Get it out in the open. Have your Manager or Director explain the gift policy to the Chaplain Team. Whatever you do, respect the patient-Chaplain boundary. Your integrity and reputation are at stake.