A Time to Speak — Be sure to request pastoral care at the hospital

Deacon Bryan Bush

There are certain times in a family’s life when it seems more important than ever to have the church present for us. These times can be filled with uncertainty or even grief. Our faith can be seriously challenged. This is particularly true during a serious illness when we or a loved one are hospitalized.

This challenge can be especially difficult for those who have been only marginally connected with the church. The presence of the church in the person of the priest, deacon or lay minister provides critical pastoral care, which can give spiritual comfort and even set the conditions for physical healing.

However, sometimes legal rules to which hospitals must adhere can lead to confusion, misunderstanding or even hurt feelings.

When a patient is admitted to the hospital, they (or the patient’s family) are asked if they have a religious preference. Once they state their preference (and perhaps their parish name), there is sometimes an assumption on the part of the patient and their family that the hospital will immediately contact the parish. However, because of the very strict HIPAA law that went into effect in 1996, notification to anyone not authorized by the patient is no longer permitted. Health care professionals are held strictly accountable to these rules.

This can often lead to added suffering as the patient and/or family believes they have been ignored by the church during a very real time of need. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. For this reason, the Archdiocese of Louisville recommends that if you or a loved one are hospitalized, that you contact your parish office to let the staff know as soon as possible.

If you are unable to contact the parish, please ask to see the hospital chaplain. The hospital chaplain can then contact the parish to relay your desire for communion, to be added to the prayer chain, to receive a hospital visit or to see a priest for anointing and/or confession.

A complicating issue is that few hospitals in Louisville have a Catholic priest on the chaplaincy staff. Jewish, University of Louisville and Baptist Health hospitals do not have a Catholic priest on staff. For that reason, the archdiocese established a pastoral care team of deacons who effectively serve as on-call chaplains.

The on-call deacons receive requests for spiritual care through the hospital chaplain offices. When the information is provided, we assess the needs of the patient and family. We then either make an immediate visit or contact one of the priests who volunteer their time in order to meet the sacramental needs of Catholic patients.

The hospital chaplains and the priests and deacons who volunteer in this ministry are highly trained to provide pastoral care in hospitals. And we are extremely committed to providing for your spiritual needs. Please know that the archdiocese is fully committed to the pastoral care of the sick.

Legal barriers, however, prohibit “automatic” notification. Do not hesitate to make your request for pastoral care, whether directly through the parish or through hospital chaplains, as early as possible, especially if the request is for the sacraments of anointing of the sick or reconciliation.

Deacon Bryan Bush is a permanent deacon at Holy Spirit Church.

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