Health Care Civil Rights

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

This is not an exhaustive list and will be updated regularly. If you do not see your question here, please refer to our Resources page.

Q. My family member is a patient at a hospital where they are not allowing visitation (or very limited visitation) due to COVID-19 restrictions. What can I do?

A. The Centers For Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department Of Health And Human Services sets forth Conditions of Participation which must be followed by all hospitals that receive Medicare and/or Medicaid funds [hereafter referred to as “covered hospitals].  A primary Condition of Participation is that a covered hospital respect and ensure patient’s rights, including the right to visitation.  If a hospital is denying all visitation rights for a patient, please contact us at healthcarecivilrights@gmail.com.

Q. I am told by a nursing home facility where my family member is a patient that there is no visitation (or very limited visitation) due to COVID-19 restrictions. What can I do?

A. Visitation rights are nearly universally recognized as a fundamental right of patients and their families. Generous or even open visitation policies have been proven in countless published studies to lead to better outcomes for patients, family members, and health care providers.

These visitation rights are so fundamental that they have been incorporated into federal law.

There is much confusion on visitation rights during COVID-19. However, if you or your loved one is a patient of a nursing home or a Long Term Care Facility (LTCF), updated guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has recommended visitation in “compassionate care situations”. More information for such patients can be found in this fact sheet. If you still have questions as to visitation rights, please contact us at healthcarecivilrights@gmail.com.  

Q. How do I ensure my loved one has access to the Sacraments in a healthcare setting?

A. In response to numerous reports of covered hospitals not providing access to visitation for patients, and several well-publicized cases of hospitals denying any access to chaplains for patients, the Centers For Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department Of Health And Human Services provided updated guidance for COVID-19 on March 20, 2020. This guidance includes the following:

“Facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy in conformance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.” [1]

On October 20, 2020, the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the duty of covered hospitals to provide access to chaplains in a press release that highlighted the “resolution of two religious discrimination complaints ensuring clergy access to patients for religious purposes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”[2]

The duty of covered hospitals to ensure the fundamental right of a patient to have access to a chaplain remains very much in effect during COVID-19. For more information, see this fact sheet.

If you are clergy or a responsible family member that is attempting to bring a chaplain into a hospital or health care facility and have been informed that chaplains are not allowed, please contact us at healthcarecivilrights@gmail.com.

Q. How do I determine if a specific treatment is ordinary and required or extraordinary and not required?  

A. The following articles offer a thorough discussion of this question:

Q. What is an “advance directive”?  Should I sign an advanced directive in the event I am unable to make medical decisions for myself?  What about my loved ones, should they sign an advanced directive?

A.  An advance health care directive allows you to express your wishes regarding medical care and treatment in the event you become incapacitated. In some states, an advance directive may include a “living will” and/or “durable (health care) power of attorney.” Advance directives are typically divided into several sections in which you can:

  1. Name a designated health care agent or proxy whom you authorize to make health care decisions on your behalf. This may be referred to as a “durable (or health care) power of attorney.”
  2. Specify what type of care you wish to receive if you become incapacitated through an injury or illness. This may be referred to as a “living will.” 
  3. Identify the extent of pain relief you would like to receive and whether you authorize pain relief drugs that may hasten your death.
  4. Provide instructions regarding the disposition of your organs and other body parts upon your death.

You should sign a state specific durable power of attorney or medical proxy, but should not be overly specific about which care you want because such language can be interpreted to deny you ordinary, life-sustaining care.  For more information, see the “Advance Health Care Directives” section on our Resources page


[1] https://www.cms.gov/files/document/qso-20-13-hospitals-cahs-revised.pdf, pg. 8

[2] https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/10/20/ocr-resolves-religious-discrimination-complaints-after-maryland-and-virginia-hospitals-ensure.html