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Volume X, Number 339

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Balancing Hospital Visitations and Religious Freedoms During a Pandemic

On October 20, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) settled two religious discrimination complaints involving access to clergy during the Public Health Emergency. Both complaints arose from a hospital’s failure to permit visits by religious clergy due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. In the first complaint, a COVID-19 positive new mother requested that a priest visit her newborn son and baptize him. Due to its restrictive visitor’s policy, the hospital refused. In the second complaint, a priest was denied ICU access in order to provide Catholic religious sacraments to an end-of-life patient. 

In connection with resolution of the complaints, OCR provided technical assistance and guidance to the hospitals in order to strike a balance between protecting the hospital’s staff, visitors, and patients and respecting the patient’s right to religious support. OCR approved the following requirements for visiting clergy:

  • Visiting clergy must follow all safety policies put in place by the hospital, including COVID-19 screening protocols;

  • Visiting clergy must adhere to proper infection prevention practices, such as hand washing, physical distancing and wearing a mask;

  • Visiting clergy must complete infection control training;

  • Visiting clergy must use fit-tested Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”);

  • Visiting clergy must sign an acknowledgement of the risks associated with visiting a patient who tested positive for COVID-19; and

  • In urgent end-of-life situations, an exception to the controls listed above may be made but visiting clergy must self-quarantine for 14 days following the visit. 

Hospitals are encouraged to review their visitation policies for compliance with a patient’s right to religious support. 

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 302
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About this Author

Kristen Wilson, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm, Professional Liability Litigation Attorney
Member

Clients know that Kristen Andrews Wilson will help them understand and navigate the complex and complicated healthcare landscape.  Kristen’s clients include hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities, as well as independent healthcare providers.  Kristen’s practice is a unique combination of litigation avoidance via counseling and defense via litigation, when necessary.  In addition to her medical malpractice litigation practice, Kristen has experience with federal and state healthcare regulatory compliance, as well as business transactions involving...

304-231-0444
Aleah M. Schutze Health Care Attorney Steptoe & Johnson Louisville, KY
Of Counsel

Aleah Schutze knew from a  young age that she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare and obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Health. Her decision to attend law school was born out of an altruistic desire to help more people by helping healthcare entities fulfill their individual missions.  Continuing to build her healthcare acumen, Aleah spent three years as the Associate General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel for Res-Care, Inc. (now BrightSpring Health Services), the largest diversified health and human services provider in the U.S. In that role, she gained experience in providing...

502-423-2051
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