JEFFERSON CITY – COVID-19 restrictions have robbed First Amendment rights from nursing home and long-term care residents across the nation, according to The Baptist Home President Rodney Harrison. Unable to meet with their pastors because of these restrictions, aging residents face increasing isolation and loneliness – sometimes with detrimental consequences to their health.
“Our residents have lost their rights, and nobody is advocating to restore them,” Harrison told The Pathway.
In recent weeks and months, Harrison has expressed his concerns to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, urging him to make it clear that nursing home and long-term care residents can have access to their pastors, even amid the pandemic. He spoke also with a representative of Senator Joshua Hawley, who told Harrison his message would be shared with the senator. Both men, according to Harrison, sympathized with his concerns.
“We may have stemmed the tide of the coronavirus in our long-term care facilities, but we’re seeing the collateral damage of isolation,” Harrison said. “At the heart of this matter is soul care. Did the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have the right to say that those entrusted by God to the soul care of their (church) members not be included with other palliative caregivers?”
The state of Missouri is aligned with the CDC’s guidelines and restrictions, which fail to list pastors among palliative caregivers allowed into long-term care facilities during the pandemic, even to provide soul care amid end-of-life scenarios.
“COVID-19 hit us (as a nation) essentially unprepared. Therefore, I would tend to believe this is an oversight,” Harrison said. However, when the CDC’s emergency regulations and guidelines were put into effect, they were not “filtered through our freedoms, through the Bill of Rights.” Now, several months after the outbreak of the pandemic, this oversight still remains uncorrected.
“Frankly, it should have been addressed very quickly,” Harrison said. And it must be addressed soon. The health, and even the lives, of residents in long-term care facilities across the nation are at risk because of this oversight. “They’re hurting,” Harrison said, and amid the isolation caused by the pandemic, they need pastoral care now more than ever.