“How many Chaplains do we require to meet the spiritual needs of our residents or patients in our site?”

This is a complex question since one community or site may have very different needs than another. One must consider quality as well as quantity when discussing Chaplain-patient ratios. For example within senior care settings, focused long term and assisted living sites tend to need a higher ratio of chaplain to residents ratio. Additionally, some sites with independent living residents assume they can access their local church for spiritual support. Quality involves a chaplaincy department examining its healthcare system to determine the staffing levels that work best for them.

Alright, now for a number. General ratios range from a minimum of 1:130 to a maximum of 1:100.1 In other words, one chaplain per 100 to 130 residents seems average. These may function as a yardstick for a basic pastoral care program, but they still do not address the quality issue, nor do they provide a standard to which all pastoral care services should conform.

Volunteers play a vital role in the chaplaincy program. This proposed formula reflects a similar one used for pastoral staffing in a local church wherein one pastor can generally care for the needs of 100 congregants.

Wintz and Handzo published an article on building quality-based pastoral care services.2 To discover the right level of pastoral care staffing, according to Wintz and Handzo, one must take into consideration the individual healthcare facility, the role of the professional Chaplain, the number of volunteers and the goals for the Pastoral Care Department.

For example, a chaplain in a hospital has a different role than one serving in a seniors community. For the professional Chaplain, this process also includes business-related concepts, such as productivity and leadership, the tools and data in professional chaplaincy, and how to influence administrative culture.3

Most sites will not meet this ratio, so don’t be discouraged! Chaplains need to identify those activities that meet their priorities for effective pastoral care services, such as spiritual assessment, documentation and referrals, which can be identified, measured and evaluated. We cannot do it all, therefore what remains important? And, how do we measure pastoral success?

Concerns about pastoral care staffing cannot be addressed by simply applying a random Chaplain-patient ratio. A more intentional approach is necessary. Pastoral care that emphasizes quality requires a systematic process of evaluation, monitoring and making ministry choices. A vigilant quality improvement process applied to chaplaincy will provide administrators with a greater appreciation for chaplaincy care and patients or residents will reap the benefits.

1 Susan K. Wintz and George F. Handzo, “Pastoral Care Staffing and Productivity: More Than Ratios,” Chaplaincy Today 21, no. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2005): 4.
2 Ibid., 2-10.
3 For example, a group of Georgia Chaplains focused on 12 practice areas in which a chaplaincy service, depending on its setting, can develop better practices based on quality. See Mark LaRocca-Pitts, et al., “A Collegial Process for Developing Better Practice,” Chaplaincy Today 24, no. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2008): 3-15.