The Archdiocese of Chicago in early April assembled a team of 24 priest volunteers— all under age 60, and without pre-existing medical conditions— to administer anointing of the sick to Catholics with COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cozzens said he looked to Chicago for guidance on how to assemble their own team.
The key for the St. Paul and Minneapolis “Anointing Corps”, he said, has been their training and professionalism. In addition to the priests, their archdiocesan team has triage nurses working on it, he said— people who know how to communicate effectively with hospital staff.
"We haven't been able to get into every nursing home— nor every hospital— because of the protocols, but we've been making a lot of progress," Cozzens said.
The priests on the team have received the same personal protective equipment training as the doctors and nurses, he said.
"The key for us has been convincing the hospitals and nursing homes that we have a really good protocol, and that our priests are trained and know what they're doing."
Several of the hospitals and nursing homes where priests have performed anointing, Cozzens said, have been especially welcoming of and grateful for the priests' ministry.
Most care centers have been helpful in providing the PPE that the priests need in order safely to enter the room and physically touch the patient when anointing them.
"The ones that are really helpful understand the importance of care at the time of death, and have been understanding that for us as Catholics, actual sacramental contact at the time of death is really important. And they've been understanding of that reality, and have provided us what we need to be able to do that."
Cozzens encouraged other local Churches wanting to create their own anointing teams to consult with medical experts and make sure the priests are well trained in what they are being asked to do.
"Having a professional and consistent approach has been the key to hospitals letting us in," he said.
Father Joseph Gifford, associate pastor of Church of All Saints in Lakeville typically serves as a nursing home chaplain.
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His ministry as a chaplain normally would consist of celebrating Mass for the Catholic residents at four or five area nursing homes once or twice a month. In addition, Father Gifford would normally often be called to hear confessions and administer the anointing of the sick to residents.
Father Gifford said he is glad that it is he— as All Saints' parochial vicar— who is tasked with anointing COVID-positive patients, and not his pastor.
"That way, my pastor can see the non-COVID-19 patients who are still in danger of death for all the other reasons," he said.
"In my short experience as a priest, I can always look forward to going and saying Mass at the nursing home, and it's going to be the same people," adding that he looks forward to "getting to know them better, and share life and share God with them."
Father Gifford was a trained singer before he entered the seminary, and told CNA he has used his gift of singing to entertain residents at the nursing homes he serves at by singing to them outside their windows.
In addition, since no one currently can visit the area nursing homes in person, All Saints parish has set up a "calling tree" of staff members and volunteers in order to regularly check on parishioners over 65.