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Card campaign targets loneliness at Concord Hospital

  • Rev. Kate Morse, the chaplain at Concord Hospital, stands outside the facility on Friday, May 15, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rev. Kate Morse, the chaplain at Concord Hospital, stands outside the facility on Friday, May 15, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rev. Kate Morse, the chaplain at Concord Hospital, stands outside the facility on Friday, May 15, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord Hospital patient Laura Rebolledo reads one of the cards that Rev. Kate Morse delivered to her at the facility. Courtesy—Rev. Kate Morse

  • Concord Hospital patient Laura Rebolledo reads one of the cards that Rev. Kate Morse delivered to her at the facility. Courtesy—Rev. Kate Morse

By RAY DUCKLER
Published: 5/15/2020 2:01:12 PM
Modified: 5/15/2020 2:01:00 PM

The envelopes come in daily at Concord Hospital, each sent to a different person for the same reason.

The cards, for the most part, have no return address. If they do, often there’s just a first name from the sender.

They are mailed to no one in particular, with the words above the hospital address beginning the same way:

“To any Concord Hospital patient.”

Or, sometimes, “To a Concord Hospital patient.”

Either way you slice it, this sounds like a coordinated effort, a network of people looking to brighten the day of patients. Not just the ones who have the coronavirus, either.

In fact, the illness targeted here is loneliness. It’s spreading like the virus itself, because with something as contagious as this, and with startling numbers revealing the level of danger, visiting hours are no more. Gone.

So a note to those card senders: Kate Morse, the chaplain at Concord Hospital, says you’ve made a big difference in these people’s lives. You know who you are. Morse does not, and it’s not really important anyway. Return to sender doesn’t fit here.

Mail call each day is just as exciting while wondering who’s sending these cards, who’s behind the overall effort. Maybe more so.

“What impressed me is these haven’t been just a sentence or two,” Morse said by phone. “Consistently it’s been a few paragraphs. It’s time to connect with the person who’s reading it, even though the patient doesn’t know that person and probably never will.”

Morse accepted the job at Concord Hospital last summer, moving here from Philadelphia. She wanted to be closer to extended family. She also said she liked the hospital’s approach.

“I was drawn to Concord Hospital’s recognition and commitment that spiritual care is an integral part of the holistic healing process for patients,” Morse explained in an email.

She’s a religious leader for the United Church of Christ, articulate and confident. She’s been in the making-people-feel-better business for 20 years. In the past, she’s brought spirituality and hope to victims of a bus crash and a hurricane.

She’s gotten into the minds of those who have been injured mentally and physically. She’s learned from them, and that has put her in a good position to take the reins of the hospital’s end of this letter-writing effort. There’s a staff of nurses, who help Morse choose the patients who need a boost.

“That gets people asking, ‘Does my life matter, do I matter, have I made an impact on this Earth,’ ” said Morse, referring to the lonely patients everywhere these days. “And the beauty of these cards is that they show that the answer is yes. There are people who know they are suffering and they have questions about their life and wellness.”

Morse’s name surfaced through Pam Puleo, the hospital’s chief advancement officer. Morse gladly agreed to speak with me, but she quickly moved on from talking about herself and pivoted her comments toward team effort and the spirit of Concord Hospital.

The cards and letters have made a difference, she said.

Morse said she began receiving cards a few weeks ago “To any Concord Hospital patient.”

“I didn’t know what to do with them,” Morse said. “I opened them and they were always positive, upbeat.”

They kept coming. Cards cracking jokes about Jello at the hospital. Cards with animals on them, like bright red Cardinals. Cards simply with words of encouragement from someone unknown, adding some credibility to the “we’re-all-in-this-together” rally cry.

Soon, “the arrival of the afternoon mail quickly became a highlight of my day,” Morse said.

The cards were read, then intell was gathered, a group effort. Who was especially down or sad? Maybe choose someone whose stay had been extended, or whose diagnosis had been a punch in the gut.

And remember, it didn’t matter – and still doesn’t – what ailed you.

Tore your Achilles while playing basketball and laid up for weeks? No one was coming to visit. Not at this hospital. Not at any hospital.

Morse loved her role and still does, delivering mail of great significance around the hospital like Radar O’Reilly on MASH.

“I would knock on their doorway and announce that I had mail for them,” Morse said. “They welcomed the arrival of mail, they opened it with a sense of anticipation, and read it, more often than not, while smiling.”

She said the cards come every week, every day, 16 of them on one day this week. She loves the old-school feeling of handwritten notes and stamps.

She said complications forced one patient to remain in the hospital for 25 days.

“He was feeling separated from his wife, from his children, from his grandchildren, from his church,” Morse said.

She gave him a card. One of those cards. Then he showed it to the nursing staff like a kid during show-and-tell, displayed it prominently on the window ledge in his room.

“He was delighted,” Morse said.

She said the lucky recipients initially worried they’d have to give the cards back. Nope. Even with few or no names seen anywhere on any of the envelopes, these cards were personal.

“Initially I wondered if the fact that the note card wasn't specifically addressed to a patient  by name, maybe that would matter to them,” Morse said. “I quickly learned that it did not.”




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