In July, a woman went to MedStar’s Southern Maryland Hospital Center (MSMHC), part of the MedStar Health System, to give birth. Because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to give birth without any family members present. Soon after, her baby was taken to another room and kept from her, because the COVID-19 test she had taken upon entering the facility had come back positive.
The mother asked hospital administrators to have a Catholic priest visit her newborn and baptize him. According to a complaint she filed with a federal agency, the hospital denied her request due to a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to the pandemic.
A month later, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, filed a complaint with the same agency, a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that Mary Washington Healthcare in Virginia would not permit a priest to provide the sacraments of Communion and Anointing of the Sick to a COVID-positive patient who was in an end-of-life situation and whose family requested that the priest visit the patient to provide the sacraments.
This week, the agency, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, announced that both cases had been amicably resolved. In the first case, OCR, in partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), provided technical assistance to MSMHC and MedStar Health System based on CMS guidance explaining adequate and lawful access to chaplains in hospital visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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