The hardest thing about hospital visitation is finding a parking spot!" jokes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, assistant priest at St. John's Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut. But there's more to it than just parking and showing up. We asked experienced pastors for their collective wisdom.
1. Pray before you arrive. Whether it's in your car, on the elevator, or just outside the room, ask God to work through you. "Anyone can visit a hospital," says Bruce Sonnenberg of Village Church in Irvine, California. "You're there as a representative of Jesus."
2. Understand HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act places severe restrictions on information that can be disclosed about a patient's medical record. "A patient will have a list of people who can know about his condition," explains Steve Murray, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Nashua, New Hampshire. "Get on that list."
Herb Flitton, a chaplain at North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown, North Dakota, notes, "Most health professionals don't like HIPAA any more than clergy." To smooth your interactions with hospital staff:
- Identify yourself as a pastor.
- Ask for the room number of your parishioner—this implies you already know that the patient has been admitted, which is itself restricted information.
- If you receive resistance, ask the staff or receptionist to pass on a message that the patient contact you or approve you for the release of information.
4. Don't obstruct the flow. Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cambria, Wisconsin, Kristin Frederich recalls some timeless seminary advice: "Whatever you do, don't get in the way of plugs or tubes." Most hospital staff are easy to work with once you introduce yourself, explain why you're there, ...