Clergy Access to Healthcare Environments
We all know that the clergy needs access to their church members that are inpatients in hospitals, as it if often considered part of the healing process to have religion be a part of the care system. However, we should know from history that some members of the clergy have had problems in our society. Does that mean that they are all bad apples? Absolutely not! But what does your organization do to insure the clergy has been vetted?
Clergy Security Screening
Some would argue that it is not the place for healthcare organizations to do any type of vetting of the clergy that frequent their facilities. Others would argue that you need to do some due diligence, as you are providing them for the most part with unlimited and private access to your patients. For those that think hospitals should stay out of it, do you really have any idea who is in your facility today? Do you provide identification name badges for the clergy that frequents your hospital?
I am very familiar with one northern California medical center that has in the past provided name badges to all members of the clergy upon their arrival. All the clergy needed to do was stop at the Information Desk and tell the volunteers that they were a member of the clergy, at which time a volunteer would hand them a badge that stated “Spiritual Care Giver” on it. When this was pointed out to some management, there was this oh you worry too much attitude. Really? Let’s see what giving out such identification can be like.
When your organization gives out such a badge you in most cases will have no idea who that person really is. I am sure that everyone knows that you can purchase clergy apparel without any restrictions. So now that a person has purchased a shirt with the white collar, and they have been given a name badge from a medical center that says “Spiritual Care Giver,” they have been granted access to some of the most vulnerable people within your organization. And they did so with your blessing when your staff handed them a name badge with your company logo/name on it.
Registered Sex Offender Received Security Access
So let’s get back to that medical center mentioned earlier. When this issue came to light, it was because someone recognized the “Spiritual Care Giver” as being on the Megan’s Law website, which is where you can look up sex offenders in California. Do I have your attention yet? If not, when an investigation was started to find out who managed the process for the clergy, it was found that no one did any checking to see if they were legitimate. It seemed that no one managed them, yet the organization was providing them with access and identification, making them to appear legitimate to everyone they came in contact with. As you know, in healthcare there is often an approach that all vendors need to follow certain training, health screening, and other such measures prior to working within a hospital, but it seems as if the clergy does not follow the same.
So how much damage could result from providing access to a sex offender do to your organization? Not only will there likely be a civil suit against your organization, but the bad press will take years to fade from the memory of everyone in your area. Imagine the unthinkable, a sex offender acting the part of a clergy member having private access to children or other vulnerable patients, and all right under your nose and with your blessing if your system is similar to the hospital noted earlier.
Security Risks and Vulnerabilities
This problem is not just about sexual predators acting as clergy or actually being clergy members. I have conducted reviews of other hospitals that have had just such an incident, where the offender was acting as a clergy member, but not a registered sex offender. It seems that the guy was just going from room-to-room talking about religion to patients while dressed as a minister. No harm came to any patients as result of this imposter, but several reported being harassed by the guy.
There will be those within many organizations that will claim that this type of problem cannot happen in their facility. Let’s hope they are right! However, it only takes one incident to destroy a patient’s life, their trust in your organization and your organization’s reputation in the community. Please do not take a chance and think that it has not been a problem in the past so there is no need to change your processes now. That’s gambling and could be very dangerous.