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Virtual Visits Connect Loved Ones: A Church Family Anoints Their Beloved Brother and Friend

AdventHealth Palm Coast team members Jennifer Mellow, Wendi Coheley and Eddie Conclaves with the tablets used to host a patient's virtual anointing ceremony.

AdventHealth Palm Coast team members Jennifer Mellow, Wendi Coheley and Eddie Conclaves with the tablets used to host a patient's virtual anointing ceremony.

Wally and Mary Ellen Fox, longtime Georgia residents, retired after more than 30 years working at Georgia-Cumberland Academy to live six months out of the year in their Georgia home, and the other six months in Florida. Beloved by their community, they never lost touch with their Georgia church family and friends.

In August, the couple came down with COVID-19. Mrs. Fox got better, but Mr. Fox was taken to the emergency department (ED) at AdventHealth Palm Coast, admitted and eventually ventilated.

By the time Jennifer Mellow, ED patient experience ambassador, met Mr. Fox, he was intubated in the intensive care unit (ICU). Mrs. Fox, who was in the Palm Coast, Florida, area, and their daughter and grandchildren back in Georgia, were closely involved in Mr. Fox’s care from the start. The family made a poster of Mr. Fox’s life so the hospital staff would get to know him, and they joined virtual calls facilitated by Mellow on a daily basis.

Friends and family in Florida and Georgia rallied in prayer for Mr. Fox. The pastor of his home church in Georgia contacted Eddie Goncalves, AdventHealth Palm Coast senior chaplain, with the idea to host a virtual anointing ceremony. With the technology already in place, Chaplain Goncalves enlisted the help of Mellow and Wendi Coheley, patient experience manager.

The team set up three devices for the ceremony. The tablets were held up in such a way that everyone on the call could see and hear each other and feel as if they were in the same room.

“I know you can do amazing things with technology, but I wasn’t sure how the anointing could happen,” said Mrs. Fox, recalling the event. “It was very meaningful – it was a comfort, having so many people praying for him.”

The ceremony included sessions of prayers for forgiveness and healing and the application of anointing oil on Mr. Fox’s forehead.

“For Christians, anointings have such a comforting effect,” Chaplain Goncalves said. “It’s an assurance that this person has served God and is now in God’s hands. It’s about surrendering and asking for intervention if it is His will.”

At the end of the ceremony, Mellow stayed in the room with a tablet to offer the family a private closing moment with Mr. Fox.

“It felt like they were hugging even though they were in different states,” she said. “You could tell they were at peace because they did what he would’ve wanted.”

Mr. Fox passed a week after the anointing. His family arrived in time to be physically with him, thankful for the technology that connected them up until that moment.

“Every day there is someone who needs people to connect with them,” Coheley said. “Our job now is to not let this technology go away just because our COVID numbers decline. I think of families who live out of state, young grandchildren who can’t come to the hospital – there are a lot of ways to use this to support our mission and support the patient.”

To read how a virtual visit made it possible for a mom to meet her newborn for the first time, click here.

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