We who confess Christ believe in the power of prayer and care, especially for those who are in distress. But how do we maintain the privacy all deserve and some deeply desire...this is our question for the week:
How much information do you give out to the rest of the congregation about people who are hospitalized? At this church, there is an expectation from both the hospitalized parishioners, and their friends, to provide quite detailed information about their condition, especially if they cannot receive a lot of visitors. On the one hand, I want to let people know enough that they can pray concretely, and also be appraised of their friend's true condition. On the other hand, I am very mindful of confidentiality.
Earthchick at earthchicknits.wordpress.com was the first to respond:
You are right to be concerned about confidentiality - my understanding is that we are legally bound by HIPAA not to share medical details. I understand the congregation's desire to know details, and some parishioners may be perfectly happy for those details to be shared. But I always check with the patient to see how much he or she wants divulged, and I err on the side of caution if I haven't gotten explicit permission to share details. We even ask before we add someone to our prayer list or our public prayers - because they may not even want anyone to know they are sick or in the hospital. It can be difficult not to share what we know, especially if someone is in quite serious condition and we know the congregation would want to reach out to them. I once had a parishioner who was actively dying while the congregation thought she was improving;. it was a sad shock for people when she did die. It is not what I would have chosen - but it was her choice not mine, and I felt bound to honor it.
...followed by Mompriest at http://seekingauthenticvoice.
This is a good question, and since I deal with it almost daily....first question I ask is: what does the parishioner want? I always ask parishioner, assuming they can speak, what they want. If not the parishioner, I ask family members. "Would you like to be on the private parish prayer list?" " Would you like us to pray for you on Sunday morning?" " Or would you be more comfortable with just the clergy praying for you?" AND, "if you want to be on a parish prayer list, what would you like us to say?"
Then, with the permission of the parishioner, let the parish know who, what, and why. OR, as the case may be, nothing. Some teaching may need to take place regarding HIPPA law and confidentiality.
I realize this can be a challenge for parishes that are used to a tell-all scenerio, like a family...and I tend to error on the side of offering some, but not all info, and then saying that the person does or does not want visitors/calls, depending on their desires.
So, essentially your instincts are right on target.
And we heard from Jennifer who blogs at www/anorientationofheart.blogspot.com
Gentle blogger, what a great question!
First things first: I think it’s hard to create a “one size fits all” approach to the circumstances of folks who are ill or hospitalized, but it’s easy to respect the wishes of the one who is hospitalized (or a family member’s wishes, if the person is unable to communicate his or her own wishes). Our staff and our deacons and other caregivers are trained to ask what information can be shared with the congregation. We ask “Is this information I am permitted to share?” and we ask if a person would like to have his/her name included on the congregation’s prayer list and the church news bulletin board. (We also invite that person to tell us when they’re ready to come off the prayer list, too!) We further communicate to the congregation and to our deacons that there are always individuals who ask to have their privacy respected, which is why they may be aware of a need (as we are) but it is not appearing on any public list or announcement. When folks do give me permission to share information, I keep it pretty general for public announcements and invite people to speak to me following worship if they wish to have more information. I find that’s a lot nicer than talking about prostates and such in the context of worship….
We'd love to hear from you too. Please use the comment function of this feature to add your insights.
Photo courtesy of rainbowliving.co.uk