Department of Health and Human Services to Allow Clergy in Mt. Sinai Hospitals

A medical worker transports a patient at Mount Sinai, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in New York.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday that clergy will have to be able to visit patients for religious reasons throughout the entire Mt. Sinai Health System.

On August 5, 2020, a Jewish organization brought a formal complaint to the OCR, claiming that several religious Jews in New York City hospitals, including Mt. Sinai in Manhattan, were being denied access to religious visitors. A patient was denied access to kosher food because his rabbi was not allowed to come visit with food. Another patient, a woman who tragically had a stillbirth, was unable to have a volunteer chaplain be with her for guidance and comfort.

The patients had been told they could not have access to a clergy visitor due to the coronavirus, but the situation happened in both COVID and non-COVID units.

The Jewish organization’s complaint to the OCR explained that for religious Jews, a rabbi served as an aide, comforter, and was necessary for end of life plans. The organization also noticed a rabbi could serve as translator for Jews who were more comfortable in Yiddish or Hebrew, rather than English.

The OCR’s Conscience and Religious Freedom Division reached out to Mt. Sinai to assist with their visitation policy. Mt Sinai then updated its visitation policy to reflect their previously existing rule that patients are permitted two visitors, one of whom can be a clergy member. There will also be an exception to coronavirus quarantine rules that will allow a clergy member, so long as they are in proper protective gear, to be at the bedside of a dying patient.

All visitors are required to submit to a coronavirus screening, use hand sanitizer and hand washing, wear a mask, and visit during specific hours. For the last condition, an exception will be made if it is an end-of-life scenario.

Roger Severino, Director of OCR said in a statement, “We commend Mt. Sinai Health System for modifying its policy to clarify that patients can receive safe clergy access for religious purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Severino concluded, “We applaud the hospital for ensuring that it will treat the needs of the body without sacrificing the needs of the soul.”

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