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Office of Civil Rights ensures patient access to clergy amid COVID-19

On Behalf of | Dec 30, 2020 | Estate Planning

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of strain on local hospitals and even patients. The number of visitors that patients can have has been very limited over the last several months. However, recently the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) had to resolve a complaint about Jewish patients getting access to clergy visits at Mount Sinai hospitals in New York.

Allowing NY patients access to clergy and spiritual care

The complaint, filed on Aug. 20, 2020, noted that one Mount Sinai Jewish patient couldn’t get Kosher food and couldn’t have his rabbi visit because of concerns about COVID-19. Another Jewish patient couldn’t receive a visit from a spiritual care volunteer after giving birth to a stillborn child.

To resolve the issue, the Office of Civil Rights worked with Mount Sinai hospitals to clarify their visitor policy. Now, the policy specifically says that patients can receive two visitors a day, one being a clergy member. Also, the updated policy allows for out-of-state clergy members end-of-life visits without quarantine requirements. Yet all clergy visiting patients must:

  • wear an approved mask
  • adhere to proper handwashing and sanitizing procedures
  • submit to a COVID-19 screening

Other religious discrimination problems

Mount Sinai hospitals in New York weren’t the only ones to face spiritual discrimination complaints about clergy visits during the pandemic. Hospitals in Maryland and Virginia also faced issues when they denied patients access to Catholic clergy because of COVID-19 concerns. In the Virginia incident, the patient had COVID-19 and the hospital wouldn’t allow a priest to give the patient Holy Communion or Anointing of the Sick in an end-of-life situation.

The Office of Civil Rights plans to continue to push hospitals to allow for compassionate support from clergy members during the pandemic. The goal is to allow patients to honor their religious beliefs and yet maintain the safety of:

  • clergy
  • hospital staff
  • other patients
  • other visitors

Religious groups also have filed lawsuits to push states to allow larger in-person religious services. Many religious leaders feel communal religious services are essential in this uncertain time.