Dr. Jessica Price
Pediatrician and Interim Medical Director, North Side Christian Health Center 

Dr. Jessica Price outside of North Side Christian Health Center. Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource.

For as long as Dr. Jessica Price can remember, she wanted to be a doctor. It was, and is, one way she lives out her Christian faith.

“For me, it’s always felt like a calling, something that God has given me to do and would help me do to serve people.”

For the last four and a half years, Price has fulfilled that calling as a pediatrician at the North Side Christian Health Center of Pittsburgh. The clinic is a federally qualified health center, meaning it specializes in offering healthcare to low-income and underserved populations.

COVID-19 immediately complicated the center’s day-to-day operations. It also simultaneously increased the community’s need for the clinic’s services.

“People have lost their jobs. People have lost health insurance,” Price said. “Our patients are vulnerable at baseline, but particularly during this time.”

Price is a member of West View United Methodist Church, where her spouse is the pastor. She also directs the Abundant Health Initiative of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, which took charge of helping United Methodist churches in the region respond to COVID safely.

She relied upon her faith to keep the difficulty of the moment from becoming paralyzing.

“When you look around at the world, and all of the suffering and the terrible things that are happening….It feels really helpless. You can feel really powerless,” she said.

Yet, even with no obvious “light at the end of the tunnel,” she has kept getting up and going to work.

“I can’t be guaranteed that what I do will make a difference or that, in my lifetime, this issue will ever be resolved. But I have faith that, no matter what, God’s in control. God can handle all my questions.”

Rev. Andrew Shaffer
Chaplain, UPMC Shadyside Hospital

Rev. Andrew Shaffer outside of UPMC Shadyside. Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource.

For Rev. Andrew Shaffer, a hospital chaplain at UPMC Shadyside, the onset of COVID-19 caused a shift in his basic job responsibilities.

Before the pandemic, Shaffer would come and go from patients’ rooms freely as needs arose. He also spent much of his time offering counsel to patients’ families.

After COVID, neither practice was possible in the same way. He could only visit patients who specifically requested his services, and he rarely interacted with families.

There was one population in the hospital, though, that needed his presence more than ever. And that was the medical staff.

Shaffer saw COVID’s unpredictability as one reason it presented such an emotional challenge to healthcare workers. It was hard to foresee which patients would survive from one day to the next.

“COVID-19 is a very harsh illness. It is unrelenting,” he said. “The phrase I use is, ‘It doesn’t play by the rules.’”

Given these emotional tolls, one of Shaffer’s primary roles since the start of COVID-19 has been to support medical staff. Sometimes that has meant offering spiritual counsel. More often, it has meant just being present.

“I have no magic words,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do, can say, that’s going to fix anything. But what I do is I try to encourage people in order to put them back in the game. I just support them, listen to them.”

He encourages people to serve in this listening role for one another, too. “I believed this before COVID, and I believe this now, and I’ll believe it forever. Oftentimes we see God in action in the small acts of people showing up at the right time to listen to one another.”

Chris Hedlin is PublicSource’s faith and religion reporter. She can be reached at chris@publicsource.org.

This story was fact-checked by Megan Gent.