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by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 24, 2020   

Frees couple from restricted access to priest

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The federal government is aiding patients that were denied access to a priest by a Maryland hospital.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced on Tuesday it helped Susanna and Sidney Marcus resolve their complaint against Prince George's Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). The hospital had denied them access to a priest last May while Sidney was being treated for life-threatening injuries sustained in a car accident.

In its press release, OCR described the Marcus' complaint against UMMS.

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Prince George’s Hospital Center

"Despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment, the priest was turned away by the hospital based on a visitor exclusion policy it had adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," explained OCR.

The couple, involved in a major car accident requiring emergency medevac to UMMS, were separated for treatment once they had arrived at the hospital. Sidney had the more serious injuries, prompting Susanna to call on a local priest to pray for him. When the priest was turned away, the Marcuses turned to OCR's Conscience and Religious Freedom Division for help.

According to the government press release, UMMS quickly complied with the Marcus' request once OCR became involved in the discussion.

Despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment, the priest was turned away.

"Prince George's Hospital Center ensured that Sidney Marcus could freely exercise his religion by permitting him to receive a visit from a priest, who enabled him to receive the Catholic religious sacraments of Holy Communion and anointing of the sick," the release reported.

In addition to accommodating the Marcuses, UMMS modified its policies across its 13-hospital system. Based on technical assistance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), UMMS updated how it will handle future requests.

 

CMS' guidance ensures that facilities "have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy."

HHS Secretary Alex Azar noted the Trump administration's commitment to Americans' right to practice their faith.

Too many people have died alone during this crisis, but this resolution shows that hospitals can practice compassion and safety without sacrificing either.

"As our work with the University of Maryland Medical System shows, we can deliver health care, combat COVID-19 and protect religious freedom all at the same time," Azar explained.

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Alex Azar

OCR Director Roger Severino expressed similar views, including the very human dimension of faith, especially at the moment of death.

"We applaud the University of Maryland Medical System for working to save lives while respecting what people live for, which for many includes the exercise of their faith." Severino affirmed, "Too many people have died alone during this crisis, but this resolution shows that hospitals can practice compassion and safety without sacrificing either."

The Trump administration announced the formation of the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in January 2018.

The government's press release said the division will be under the Office for Civil Rights, adding its purpose is to "restore federal enforcement of our nation's laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom."

Confusion about patient rights continues. In June, an emergency room security guard was dismissed after pressing for patient access to clergy for last rites.

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