Health First’s Director of Pastoral Care ‘Father Bob’ Bruckart Retires After 26 Years of Bedside Spiritual Care
By Space Coast Daily // January 24, 2022
Bruckart built the Pastoral Care department into an institution at Health First
Bruckart built a legacy of tending to the religious needs of Health First’s sickest patients and their families – and the medical teams who cared for them.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – When you think of a hospital, religion probably doesn’t immediately come to mind.
But for the patients and providers who have needed a spiritual lift, having a chaplain to turn to during a stressful medical situation is just as important as the healthcare itself.
That’s what The Rev. Bob Bruckart, affectionately known as “Father Bob,” has helped build in his 26 years as Director of Pastoral Care for Health First.
“There are a lot of patients who wish their doctors would talk more about faith, and the doctors do not – and, I think, respectfully so,” Father Bob said.
“But a lot of our patients have very strong faiths. Some of it’s institutional. Some of it’s noninstitutional. Some of it’s organized religion, some of it’s freeform. But when you’re in the hospital, that’s a big priority.
“And when you’re dying, it’s the only priority,” he said.
Fresh from his role as a parish priest at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Melbourne, Father Bob joined Health First in 1995, right before it was officially formed with the incorporation of the Integrated Delivery Network (IDN).
Then 44 and the sole chaplain for Brevard’s community healthcare system, with the assistance of two local pastors, Bruckart built the Pastoral Care department into an institution at Health First.
Now, there are 23 Associate Chaplains, 53 Spiritual Care Volunteers and a fleet of others who serve Health First’s No One Dies Alone (NODA) Program, which ensures that a terminal patient without nearby family or friends has someone by their bedside as they close their chapter of life.
It’s something that has been significant not only to the dying and lonely but those who are privileged to sit beside them as their souls leave this earth.
On Friday, Father Bob, 70, officially handed over the spiritual reigns to Chaplain Derly Foerste, who will step into the role.
At Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center the day before, leaders and associates gathered in the cafeteria to share stories, cake and well-wishes. This hospital is the place where one of his three sons was born, as well as three of his five grandchildren.
“It won’t be the same without him,” said Brett Esrock, CEO, Hospital Services. “When you’re here that long, you’re a part of the fabric of the organization.”
“I recently had a big birthday, and I’m in good health,” Father Bob explained. “This is the time to step away.”
He, as well as those on his team, are incredibly proud of the spiritual care model they’ve put in place to help generations to come of patients, associates and loved ones.
Father Bob’s love, wisdom, experience and grace turned out to be the added piece of compassion many patients and families needed during their darkest moments – from pediatric and neonatal deaths to car accident trauma patients and more.
“It was a natural,” Father Bob, who had been doing some graduate work in mental health counseling, recalled.
“The hospital really is the pastoral clinical application of God’s grace. I saw it as an opportunity to expand into some areas that I really wanted to go into, which was providing that support for patients, family and staff in a more intense way.”
Plenty of those he’s prayed with over the years have affirmed his team’s bedside care for patients and their families. It was an evolving and natural affirmation of the direction he chose.
“We’re at a much stronger, higher place now,” Father Bob said. “We have the clinical pastoral education program that’s kind of the gold standard for pastoral care in conjunction with AdventHealth. We’re really different, and we’re much stronger and broader. I’m pleased it’s in such a strong position.”
He’s delighted how Health First has embraced spiritual care.
“They realize it’s part of people’s experience of getting well or wholeness,” he said.
Much like healthcare, no two days have ever been the same for Father Bob. Whether it’s an Emergency Department situation that calls for spiritual support or a patient in the ICU, Labor/Delivery or Hospice care, his role (and that of his team) helps deliver the compassionate – and sometimes spiritual – care our community yearns for in their darkest of months and even triumphs.
“That’s the magic of it,” Father Bob noted. “We meet the best people under some of the worst situations. It is a true privilege that we are able to provide reassurance in those moments of need, and I’m grateful to have borne Almighty God’s presence in this place.”
Community feedback confirms it. A woman whose aunt died of COVID-19 last year at Holmes Regional Medical Center recently shared her appreciation in a thank-you letter to staff.
“I can’t put into words what your thoughtfulness means to me and my family,” she wrote. “I would like to thank the Chaplain that prayed with us right before my aunt transitioned…. You all should be reminded of the blessing you are in healthcare and the difference you make in the lives of others, especially during very difficult and vulnerable moments of life. May God bless each and every single one of you as you endeavor to continue being the heart and hands of God in the Earth.”
Patient expressions of gratitude have piled up – as have those of the associates who needed some spiritual guidance as well.
Julie Strahle, an RN at Holmes Regional for 18 years, used to work in a long-term care unit.
“I used to call Father Bob pretty much regularly,” Julie said.
“It’s just so many different patients, when he would come around and pray with them, it just helped a nurse’s heart. It gave such support to us, too. It always blessed my heart as much as it blessed the patient’s heart.”
Chaplain Derly Foerste, who takes the spiritual reigns as the new Director of Pastoral Care, commended the program – not to mention the culture of compassion – that Father Bob helped grow.
“You will be missed because you are a loving, kind person,” Foerste said. “You are going to leave a great legacy, not only for the Pastoral Care department, but for the entire organization.”
For more about the Pastoral Care services provided in Health First Hospitals, visit HF.org/Pastoralcare.