Hospital Restrictions Bar Chaplains from Ministering Bedside

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At a time when patients and staff are desperate for hope, many spiritual leaders must offer their solace from a distance.

As medical facilities restrict visitors and ration protective gear amid the coronavirus pandemic, more hospital chaplains have been forced to do their job at a distance, while ministering to an onslaught of weary patients, families, and health care staff.

“Due to supply shortages of masks, this means that isolation rooms may involve phone calls, notes, letters, a wave through the door rather than (a chaplain being) inside the room,” said Heidi Greider, manager of spiritual care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Though individual institutions ultimately determine their own policies, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention play a factor. CDC guidance issued in February urged facilities to limit visitors, and as the outbreak has worsened, hospitals with COVID-19 patients have continued to tighten restrictions, including on chaplains.

Tim Kinnersley, lead chaplain at Northside Hospital Cherokee in Canton, Georgia, just got word this week that his hospital put a hold on all in-person chaplain visits to reduce the number of potential carriers coming in and out of the facility.

His case is not an anomaly. Another chaplain recalled how over two weeks her hospital went from allowing any guests to only permitting visits in end-of-life situations. In some cases, even medical staff are limited to one or two per room when the patient is known to be infected.

As the pandemic spread, CT heard reports of chaplains losing access to facilities—hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and prisons—across the country, including in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Kansas.

COVID-19 represents an unprecedented burden on the health care system and patients themselves, often isolated from …

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