Clarifying Obligations: The Fight for Religious Non-Discrimination in Healthcare

Office for Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued fresh guidelines for hospital and long-term care facility administrators, reinforcing their duties towards ensuring non-discrimination based on religious affiliations in patient visitation.

The recent guidance points out the organizations’ independent responsibilities under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations to prevent unwarranted discrimination based on religion, as well as other federally protected bases. This action aligns with President Biden and Vice President Harris’s push to combat intolerance, prioritize equality, and eliminate discrimination.

According to CMS regulations, healthcare entities such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and critical access hospitals cannot deny visitation rights based on race, color, nationality, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. The regulations demand adherence to these prohibitions through written visitation policies. The OCR oversees these facilities’ compliance with the prohibition of religious discrimination in these rules.

The OCR’s guidance, aptly titled “FAQs on Patient Visitation at Certain Federally Funded Entities and Facilities,” offers clarity on potential grey areas. It provides examples highlighting the importance of considering religious needs when framing visitation policies and promoting transparent communication regarding visitation rules and practices.

The document highlights some concerning scenarios, such as cases where hospitals barred family members from bringing patients religiously compliant food while allowing other visitors to do the same. The guidance also sheds light on instances where certain religious groups endured stricter screening protocols or were denied visitation opportunities due to their religious affiliations. It called out policies that allowed patients to visit with loved ones but barred them from consulting with clergy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ:  BARDA Allocates $500 Million for Innovative COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

In issuing this guidance, the OCR aims to motivate healthcare facilities to comply with CMS regulations and other civil rights laws, thus preventing religious discrimination and promoting policies of inclusivity. The OCR also stands ready to provide technical assistance to these facilities to ensure they meet their legal obligations.

The consequence of this policy is profound; it guarantees patients’ right to practice their faith freely and receive relevant religious accommodations in healthcare facilities. By denouncing religious discrimination in visitation policies, these institutions can foster an inclusive atmosphere that recognizes the diverse faiths of patients and their families.

Equally, this guidance promotes equity and non-discrimination by recognizing potential biases and ensuring equal treatment for all religious affiliations. It serves as a robust reminder that religious discrimination has no place in federally funded programs and activities, reinforcing the shield provided by civil rights laws.

In a nutshell, the OCR’s advice on religious non-discrimination in patient visitation underscores the importance of inclusive visitation policies in healthcare facilities. The guidance strives to eradicate religious discrimination and promote equitable treatment for all patients. Healthcare facilities are bing encouraged to scrutinize their visitation policies and practices to ensure compliance with CMS regulations and civil rights laws, creating an environment that respects religious diversity and encourages inclusivity.

For the latest news on everything happening in Chester County and the surrounding area, be sure to follow MyChesCo on Google News and Microsoft Start.