COMMENTARY

Fate worse than death: Loneliness of hospitalization and care facility housing

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What has happened to our nation? What was once a people that took pride in the manner in how they cared for their neighbors and those they did not personally know, have now abandoned them due to this horrific pandemic known as COVID-19.


The rules and regulations of the different care facilities and hospitals, brought on under the leadership of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and those in the administration of these different facilities, are keeping families, friends and religious personnel from providing mental and spiritual care that is so desperately needed.


 It is causing an extreme feeling of loneliness and abandonment for those suffering in isolation. There should be a public outcry against this atrocity but instead, some of these groups and facilities are being praised for their restrictions because of “safe practices” and “protecting the patient.”

           

On March 13, 2020, in a public release entitled “CMS Announces New Measures to Protect Nursing Home Residents from COVID-19,” the governmental organization announced “an important temporary measure” for the protection for those in care facilities. Hospitals in many cases followed suit.


The implementation of the limitation of visitation at these different care facilities and hospitals for a temporary period is logical from an infection control perspective and from a legal liability. One might think that through the limitation of people coming and going to and from these facilities and hospitals that the risk of exposure would be limited or even eliminated. However, we are now no longer in a temporary time period.


According to data from CMS, there have been 377,510 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 76,542 deaths within the resident bodies of care facilities associated with the virus. Further, they also show there have been 322,690 confirmed cases among the staff of these facilities. Hospitals, while limiting visitors, are still treating non-COVID-19 patients, who are considered to be even the most susceptible to this virus.



Even with the protocols in place, the virus is still being spread at a high rate. Should those who are suffering with it and other ailments be forced to suffer alone? Should those who are healthy, but just not able to care for themselves, suffer depression and the loss of the will to live from this perceived alienation and isolation from those they love? This type of treatment of patients is not only addressed in the “Resident Rights” section of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, but also in the eighth amendment of U.S. Constitution, covering cruel and unusual punishment.

         
The most profound reasoning for those of faith to voice their concern for the handling of the visitation and care of loved ones, friends, and others during this pandemic, and to persistently strive to affect change, is biblical. In several different passages of the gospels (Matthew 25:34-40; John 13:12-14; Luke 6:31) and even in the epistles of the apostle Paul (Galatians 6:2; Romans 12:13), Christians are called to care for those who are sick and in need.


Even during this difficult time of uncertainty and fear, we must follow the teachings of Scripture and fulfill our responsibilities to our Savior. We must be servants to those who are in need.

           
Other reasoning for allowing visitation privileges for family, friends, and ministry personnel in these different healthcare centers comes from several research projects on the role of spirituality in healthcare. In her journal article in the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, entitled “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care,” Dr. Christina M. Puchalski, MD, MS, notes the relationship between a person’s spiritual health and their overall physical health. She states, “Medical ethicists have reminded us that religion and spirituality form the basis of meaning and purpose for many people.”


She continues to argue that morality, coping, and recovery are all linked to the spiritual health of those who are ill. Further, she quotes the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations in saying, “For many patients, pastoral care and other spiritual services are an integral part of health care and daily life.” While she focuses on the religious aspect of spiritual care, there is so much more to caring for someone’s spiritual well-being than just seeing a minister. Both family and friends are crucial in this care, as well.


As a family member of many who are on the front line of the battle with this pandemic-level virus, I share the concerns of the care facilities, hospitals, and leadership personnel in the minimization of viral transmission. I recognize even with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and the screenings of visitors, there is still a chance to unknowingly spread the virus among those in a facility.


However, the idea that removing patient visitation from families, friends, and ministry personnel to limit exposure to patients is sound in theory, is not practical for implementation due to the many different unknown variables of both the mutating virus and the actions/choices of even those in the healthcare field.


We, as a nation, owe it to those before us to pick up the mantle in caring for those who desperately need the love and affection provided to them through the interpersonal interaction of family, friends, and ministry personnel. Thus, families, friends, and ministry personnel should be able to have open visitation, when following the proper protocols of safety (i.e., PPE, temperature checks, COVID-19 test, etc.), to address the loneliness and poor spirits of those under the care of hospitals and care facilities.


This simple step, if properly implemented and followed correctly, will make all aspects of care for those who are poor in health or unable to care for themselves adequately much more humane.



SCHYLAR FIELDS is senior pastor of Bruner's Chapel Baptist Church

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