Spiritual care during the healing process is often considered as important as the physical care hospital patients receive. But for some patients who don't have or know clergy, that spiritual care until now has been often neglected in Utah County.

After several years of active campaigning by area clergy, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center has added its first-ever full-time chaplain. This follows the lead of Intermountain Health Care's LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, where Chaplain Susan Jackson was hired in early 1997.For 22 years, Chaplain Alden Brown served as a chaplain in the Army. As a lieutenant colonel, he chose retirement to take on his new position at Utah Valley and at IHC's two other hospital's, Orem Community and American Fork Hospital.

He graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in counseling and received additional training in clinical pastoral education. A similar training program in offered in Salt Lake City by St. Mark's Hospital.

Utah County is no stranger to religious ministry in hospitals, where local religious leaders, missionaries, LDS home teachers and visiting teachers are a constant in the hallways and rooms of patients. Yet a non-denominational element has long been missing.

According to Marty Marriott, director of quality resources at UVRMC, a chaplain can serve patients in many ways, including ministering directly to patients and their family members and helping to contact spiritual leaders or pastors at a patient's request.

"In every hospital, people come who are not active in a church," Brown said. "There is a big need. I am hoping to be there in some role as a representative of our Heavenly Father for those who won't reach out to a church leader and remind them there is that aspect of life."

Sue Fleming, director of community outreach at Utah Valley, acknowledges the need for a chaplaincy has been evident for a very long time. "We have been aware local clergy wanted stronger relationships with the hospital. Everyone was well-intended, but at best we were hit and miss."

Pastor Dan Martella of the Provo Seventh-day Adventist Church said he has worked with the pastoral committee at the hospital and was involved in the early stages of introducing something that is basically foreign to the Utah County area.

It doesn't matter to Pastor Martella and other church leaders that Brown is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What does matter to them is there is now a spiritual link to the hospital and that the chaplain sees one of his biggest duties as building bridges between the hospital, the chaplaincy, the community clergy and the general population.

"He (Brown) has lived in a variety of settings and has worked with a variety of churches. I am not concerned he's of the predominant religion," Pastor Martella said. He is more concerned that the chaplaincy is about 20 years overdue.

The Rev. Jackson at LDS Hospital concurs with Pastor Martella - the need along the Wasatch Front for hospital chaplains is great. "We've had a real wonderful reception here," she said. "We started off with one chaplain here, and in six months we had to hire another."

The Rev. Jackson is an ordained minister who coincidentally left her ministry at the Provo Community Church for the chaplaincy. She had worked previously as a hospital chaplain in Medford, Ore.

Like the Rev. Jackson, Brown wants to provide higher levels of spiritual support not only for patients but to the entire staff of all three hospitals. "I am hoping to facilitate the staff members that don't have close ties to clergy and help them also," he said.

To that end, IHC is also planning to build a chapel in the medical center as part of its current construction project. In the meantime, Brown will continue working from his small office across from the admitting desk, meet with leaders of all faiths and counsel with patients needing spiritual care.

Brown can be contacted by calling 373-7850, ext. 3826.