One responsibility of a pastor is to visit people when they are hospitalized. When people’s lives are disrupted by loss of health, they need support and love. It’s an opportunity for the minister to say on behalf of the church, “We care about you!”

Medical practices have changed over the years. Two changes have made it more difficult for a minister to visit people in the hospital.

First of all, people have much shorter hospital stays than in years past. A procedure that would have required a two-to-three-day stay in previous years may be considered as outpatient surgery today. It’s not uncommon for people to be in and out of the hospital before word gets to the minister. Of course we can still minister to people at home or by phone. But some people don’t think it counts unless you visit them in the hospital.

Secondly, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act now prohibits hospitals from making a full list of hospitalized patients available for public viewing. This has been done as privacy protection for the patient. If you don’t want anyone to know you are in the hospital, you have the right to keep that information private. Before this new policy, total privacy was difficult to achieve.

Now, however, hospital staff are required to keep your hospitalization confidential, or it is considered a breach of your privacy. If you want a visit from your pastor, family, or friends, you must take the responsibility to let these people know.

What can you do if you want care and love from the church and friends when you are hospitalized?

–You can give the hospital permission for your name to appear on a hospital directory.

–You can give the hospital the name of the church where you are a member. The chaplain has the authority to call the church about your hospitalization. Not all hospitals have chaplains, however, and those that do may not call unless they are specifically asked.

–The best thing you can do is to personally call your church office or your pastor and leave word about your hospitalization. If you are unable to do this, someone in your family will have to do it for you.

Every minister I know sees visiting the sick and injured as an important part of his or her job. But in order for us to do that job well, you must also do yours. Don’t play the game of waiting to see if someone else is going to notify the church about your hospitalization.

If you want the prayers and ministry that ministers and a church family want to give to you in times of hospitalization, please call us or ask a relative or friend to call. Otherwise, how can we know?

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column appeared in The Moultrie Observer.

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