For 36 years, the Chaplaincy Program at A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital has been providing support to patients who want its services.

On Friday, the program celebrated its anniversary with a dinner at the First Baptist Church in Oneonta. Several dozen people who’ve been involved with the program over the years were in attendance.

Before the service began, pastoral care was provided by patients’ religious leaders when they could visit the hospital, said the Rev. Judith Thistle, the program’s director. She also is the clergywoman at the Second Baptist Church in Worcester.

Clergy and laity volunteered, and with the help of Fox hospital board and administration, the service has grown.

Having religious leaders who can offer support on a regular basis helps with patient care, she said. It’s provided to people of all religious affiliations with an initial visit, and follow-ups are provided only if patients request them.

Two years ago, one such patient was Oneonta resident Aaron Self, who prepared the meal for Friday’s celebration. He was a patient at the hospital when a clergy member was asked to refer him to a Baptist clergy. He soon met Rev. Randolph Palada from the First Baptist Church, and after his release started attending.

Self said he recently became a church member, and wanted to prepare the meal because “they helped me out.”

Palada said he became part of the program in 1990, and is the longest-serving current chaplain.

“It’s so exciting to the have the opportunity to host this milestone. It means a lot to our church,” he said. The program is important because it helps people deal with issues they might have to confront, he said.

“We let them know there is help, and they’re not alone,” he said. “Sometimes just our presence can make a difference.”

The chaplain at the dinner with the longest history with the program is Richard Breuninger. He started with the program in the 1970s, and served until 1986 before switching because of a career change.

“It’s reassuring that it has continued,” he said, adding that it’s an important thing for the hospital to offer, providing support to the patient, family and staff.

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