Hoag hires first full-time female chaplain

NEWPORT BEACH — Noting that female patients often feel more comfortable getting spiritual guidance from other women, Hoag Hospital has hired its first full-time female chaplain.

Chaplain Susan Conforti, 51, of Irvine — who is also the first ordained rabbi to serve in the position — works with patients and staff members at the hospital's campuses in Newport Beach and Irvine as one of three full-time chaplains, Hoag officials said.

Conforti took over from Chaplain Lloyd Fellers, who retired March 1 after serving at Hoag for more than 30 years, said Chaplain Don Oliver, the hospital's director of pastoral care.

"… Our hired staff had been primarily male," Oliver said. "Hoag has moved in the direction of focusing resources in women's medicine, and women are much more inclined to seek out medical services. They certainly make most of the medical decisions in the family, so it makes sense to have a woman on staff sensitive to the needs of women."

Through the Women's Health Institute in Hoag's Newport Beach facility — which includes maternal child, breast, obstetrics and gynecological services — Hoag provides care to more women than any other hospital or medical care facility in Orange County, said hospital spokeswoman Tiffany Lang.

While Hoag has employed a female chaplain in the past, she worked part-time.

"It's especially difficult to provide chaplaincy to women who, for example, have just lost a pregnancy," Conforti said. "It's heartbreaking and one of those times that should be wonderful."

Male chaplains can offer spiritual guidance to female patients facing such a crisis, but some women feel more comfortable talking with another woman, Conforti said.

Conforti's duties will also include being trained to assist in overseeing the hospital's clinical pastoral program and eventually be a leader in the training of new chaplains, Oliver said.

Conforti was ordained in 2001. Before that she studied for one year at the Hebrew Union College in Israel and four years at the college's Cincinnati campus.

And because Conforti is a rabbi, she will also help the hospital better serve the county's Jewish populationhich is not to say that people of faiths outside Judaism could not benefit from Conforti's experience, Oliver noted.

Oliver is Presbyterian, and the other full-time chaplain, Evans Mulima, is African Methodist Episcopal.

"Chaplains provide spiritual care," Oliver said. "When patients come into the hospital, they're usually in distress and in need of someone to help them manage that distress."

Part of a chaplain's role is to make sure that whoever needs spiritual care — be it a patient, a patient's family or hospital staff — that they are connected with the right person to care for them, Oliver said.

At times, that can require a Hoag chaplain to connect with religious leaders outside the hospital, he said.

There is no "religious brand" to describe "quality healthcare," Oliver said.

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