Pastors are being asked to share with Lutheran Services in America (LSA) their experiences with problems they have had over the last year getting information that allows them to visit members and others in hospitals or nursing homes.
Lisa Schiller of LSA is managing the project. She told Reporter that she “will be collecting and analyzing the experiences of pastors and will develop an information document to post on the LSA Web site.”
Schiller said the project “came about because several LSA staff had gotten questions and/or comments” from pastors who had faced such problems since the first-ever federal privacy standards for protecting patients’ medical records and other information went into effect on April 14, 2003.
Congress asked the Department of Health and Human Services to issue such standards as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
“HIPAA requires health-care organizations to more stringently protect patients’ ‘protected health information,'” Schiller said.
“In most health-care settings, pastors have experienced changes in how they can get information,” she told Reporter. “However, the health-care facility may have other policies and procedures in place, so one response for all settings isn’t possible.”
Schiller said the most frequent solution that pastors are mentioning is “how they are working with their congregations to develop a culture where the individual, family or friend notifies the pastor of a hospitalization.”
“Unfortunately, there is not uniformity in health-care organizations in the understanding and implementation of HIPAA,” said Rev. John Fale, director of chaplaincy, pastoral counseling and clinical education with LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
In some hospitals that used to notify a pastor if a member was admitted, that has been discontinued “because they need to secure the permission of the patient,” Fale said.
“Many pastors and visitation personnel from congregations have been frustrated, [and] are encouraging their members to notify the church office when someone in the family is hospitalized.”
Fale, who said he recommends that pastors participate in the LSA project, told Reporter that some LCMS circuits and community ministerial associations have contacted hospitals “to discuss best practices in providing for the spiritual care of patients.”
Pastors may send their written experiences and/or solutions to Lisa Schiller, Lutheran Services in America, P.O. Box 642, Prospect, PA 16052; firstname.lastname@example.org; or call (724) 865-3236.
Schiller said that the document would be posted on the LSA Web site, www.lutheranservices.org, “in early May.”
Posted March 12, 2004