Texas chaplain honored for end-of-life care

September 23, 2004

The Texas Partnership for End-of-Life Care (TxPEC) has doubly honored the Rev. Amy Donohue-Adams, head of the chaplaincy programs at Round Rock Medical Center.

A statewide organization dedicated to improving end-of-life care for people of all cultures and communities in Texas, TxPEC has selected Donohue-Adams to receive two awards: a Texas Champion for End-of-Life Care and its highest honor and the Chuck Meyer Award for Excellence.

Meyer, nationally-recognized end-of-life care advocate and author, mentored Donohue-Adams from her studies at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in the early 1990s through her development of a model for chaplaincy ministries at the Round Rock Medical Center. The full version of this article with photographs can be found at http://ssw.edu/.

Known affectionately at the medical center as Father Amy, Donohue-Adams "exemplifies 'manos de amore' –- hands of love extended to both staff and patients when the trials of death reach their greatest tempo. She is truly a 'Champion,'" said Janene Jeffrey, a local nursing professor who hosts a monthly Pregnancy Loss Support Group with Donohue-Adams.

After serving at St. Francis' Church, Houston, and St. Peter's, Lago Vista, following seminary graduation and ordination in 1993, Donohue-Adams joined the Round Rock Medical Center as chaplain and volunteer coordinator eight years ago. "There really were not any end-of-life programs in place when I came to the medical center in the fall of 1996," Donohue-Adams said. She soon began full-time work as chaplain and developed a range of exemplary programs to assist those in the process of dying, whatever their age, as well as their survivors.

Processes for allowing an all natural death to occur within the hospital were crafted with encouragement and advice from Meyer, who was then director of the pastoral care department at St. David's Medical Center in Austin. Through Donohue-Adams's influence, Round Rock Medical Center has replaced the rather negative designation –- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) –- with the more positive language –- Allow Natural Death (AND).

"It's impressive that a chaplain could have such an effect on institutional change in a medical setting," said Suze L. Miller, executive director of Austin-based TxPEC. "This very significant move educates health care workers and consumers that natural death is a normal happening."

Building upon liturgical work first begun during seminary studies, Donohue-Adams also created a program for ministry to young parents after a perinatal loss, early or during a pregnancy, or shortly after birth.

The cremated remains of more than 20 babies who died within several weeks of their gestation are now interred in a memory garden within the medical center. The site –- unique among Austin metropolitan area hospitals –= offers solace to family members and symbolizes "what an imprint their tiny footsteps have made," she said.

In addition, she has developed a hospital program by which persons are helped to begin loving conversations with their families regarding Advance Care Planning. Within this program, persons are encouraged to give advance directions as to who can speak medically for them when they are unable to speak for themselves, to talk with families regarding what life values should inform future medical decisions and even encouraged to express specific funeral and burial preferences.

Miller reports the TxPEC board decided to honor Donohue-Adams with the Meyer Award based on these many institutional changes. In addition, the board considered previous honors Donohue-Adams has garnered such as the Columbia/HCA Frist Humanitarian Award for exemplary service to patients and the health care community and the Caregiver Award for quality patient care from the St. David's Partnership.

Donohue-Adams views her ministry as a manifestation of the Episcopal Church as personified by St. James' Episcopal Church in Austin. Very active in the life and ministry of the East Austin church, Donohue-Adams is the church's Associated Chaplain. The congregation understands her ministry in the medical center to be an extension of the ministry of the parish.

Donohue-Adams began her hospital ministry at Ben Taub Hospital and St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, both in Houston, through Clinical Pastoral Education internships and residencies. She first worked with Meyer when she was a seminary student in Austin. She was one of many seminarians who learned the ministry of hospital chaplaincy from Meyer during on-call employment at St. David's Hospital in Austin. "When I first came to Round Rock, Chuck said it reminded him of his first days at St. David's in 1980. We both built programs of ministry from the ground up," she said.

Their mutual work ended in 2000 when Meyer was killed in a traffic accident outside Austin.

Donohue-Adams will formally receive the Championship Award and the Chuck Meyer Award for Excellence from TxPEC on November 12 in Dallas.