Barnes-Jewish West welcomes rabbi as newest staff chaplain

Rabbi Larry Glestein with Marianne Fournie, RN, chief nurse executive at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A new face from the Jewish community has arrived at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. Rabbi Larry Glestein has assumed duties as staff chaplain at the facility.

Glestein, who began work at the hospital in May, also splits duties with a fellow rabbi at the Barnes-Jewish main location on Kingshighway but most of his duties lie at the Olive Boulevard location, just west of Interstate 270, where he has replaced the previous chaplain, who was of the Catholic faith. A graduate of Adelphi University and Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in New York, Glestein, 47, is a former community chaplain for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, a position he began in 1996. Previous to that, he served as a chaplain at an East Coast nursing home.

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The rabbi said he is happy to be on board at Barnes-Jewish where he believes their “patient-centered” philosophy will mesh well with his own approach.

“It’s been a real joy with the encounters I’ve had so far,” he said. “Staff, patients and family members have just been really warm and welcoming. I am heartened to be part of an organization that emphasizes care rather than bureaucracy and sees patients as souls, not statistics,” he said.

Glestein, who graduated chaplaincy school at St. Luke’s Hospital, said he works in conjunction with a team of professionals including a social worker, dietician, nurse and physical therapist to assess a patient’s overall situation.

“You have to get a sense of how patients are doing, when they might go home and what they need,” he said. “Basically, I just go room to room, making visits and trying to be a prayerful, hopeful, listening and caring heart.”

As someone with 19 years in long-term care experience, Glestein said that dealing with patients, particularly seniors is something he’s accustomed to. Even with his new position, he said he will continue to work with local nursing homes.

“I was brought up to respect and love the elderly,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve loved connecting with people and what matters to them the most.”

Glestein said the transition to hospital chaplaincy has been a “blessing.” “While several care facilities have hired me to provide chaplain services to residents, after 19 years exclusively in long term care and seeing so much Alzheimers and dementia, it was time for a change – and it’s been a rebirth,” he said.

Someone with the ability to connect is precisely what Barnes-Jewish was looking for, said Glestein’s supervisor Jim Murphy. Murphy noted that Glestein’s presence will do more than help Barnes service Jewish patients. He said the rabbi had shown great ability in dealing with individuals of all religions and had solid connections in the interfaith community.

“Whenever you look for one person to fill the bill for all those different cultures, you are looking for someone who can get outside of their own comfort zone, what they are familiar with and relate to patients who are from very different cultures,” he said. “He’s a very spiritual man. He respects patients and their belief systems. We’re just very pleased with him.”

Murphy said about 500 in-patients pass through the hospital in any given month.

It’s a task that Glestein takes seriously.

“Whatever faith people are of, I just really enjoy being an anchor to them and seeing them heal quickly,” he said.

Glestein, a congregant at Agudas Israel, lives in University City with his wife. The couple has two teenage daughters.