New CMS guidelines see ministers
as ‘essential’ for health of residents
JEFFERSON CITY – Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state and nation once again have access to their pastors, partly because of the public policy advocacy of the Missouri Baptist Convention and The Baptist Home.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released updated COVID-19 restrictions, Sept. 17, expanding guidelines for compassionate care visits at long-term care facilities.
“What that means is significant,” Rodney Harrison, president of The Baptist Home, said. “Not only does it give provision for families to have greater access to their loved ones, but it also includes pastors among the essential individuals and personnel that can come and visit residents in the nursing home.”
The updated guidelines read, “Also, in addition to family members, compassionate care visits can be conducted by any individual that can meet the resident’s needs, such as clergy or lay persons offering religious and spiritual support.”
Prior to this update from the CMS, Harrison expressed his deep concern that COVID-19 restrictions had robbed First Amendment rights from long-term care residents, forcing them to face isolation and loneliness amid the pandemic, without any pastoral care. Too often, this was detrimental to the health of these residents.
While Harrison said the new CMS guidelines take “a significant step in the right direction,” he added that the guidelines only address the “current coronavirus crisis.”
“It doesn’t address the fundamental issue of ensuring first amendment rights for future crises,” he said.
Yet he celebrates the ground that has been won for the aging residents of long-term care facilities, as well as the way Missouri Baptists helped to bring about these positive changes.
“Missouri Baptists played a very significant role,” Harrison said, especially by bringing this issue to the attention of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri Senator Joshua Hawley and by advocating for the rights of residents.
“The Baptist Home not only is about providing Christlike care to the aging, but also education and advocacy for the aging,” he added. “So this is an example of advocacy in action and how the Missouri Baptist Convention has had a great part in this.
“This is an example of synergy between Pathway leadership and the executive leadership under John Yeats, and entity leadership – how we all were able to work together and bring about a result that is being universally applauded.”