HIPAA and the Parish Nurse

19 Jul

HIPAA and the Parish Nurse

When we first began the Parish Nurse Program at David’s Star Lutheran Church, in Jackson Wisconsin, it took a bit of time for the congregation to understand the role of the Parish Nurse. People would approach me asking how dear “Aunt Myrtle” was doing after her surgery, not realizing that I couldn’t be a source of detailed information! I also found it unsettling not to have access to a person’s medical record and the nurse on the floor unable to include me in on any discharge planning! But this only made me concentrate my efforts on the areas that were appropriate for a parish nurse and that was on the patient and family’s emotional and spiritual health. My visits always include a good deal of active listening as they tell their “story” along with the comfort that comes from God’s Word in the form of a devotion, scripture reading and/or prayer. It is gratifying to see how people react to God’s Word and a pleasure to have plenty of time to be with my brother or sister in Christ in whatever situation I find them.

During those initial years the HIPAA law created confusion for all sorts of people but also for congregations as they adapted to the changes. At David’s Star we felt the need to mention the HIPAA law and privacy issues in the monthly newsletter “Parish Nurse News” article. Below is an excerpt from that article.

“Before the HIPAA law went into effect, the Parish Nurse or Pastor could arrive at a hospital and ask for the names of patients from their own congregations from a directory. Now, facilities may maintain a directory, but directory information may be shared only if the Parish Nurse or Pastor asks for the person by name, and only if the patient has given permission to be listed. The best solution to this situation and to insure that the Parish Nurse or the Pastor receives the correct information is for the patient or family member to inform the Church of any admissions and give permission to be in the facility directory. Please call the Church office!


Also, for your information, Pastors are happy to include your concerns in the prayers during Church but will only do so with your specific request. The prayers will be in general terms only, unless specifically indicated by the patient or family in the case of an emergency. The Pastors, Parish Nurse, and office staff will share information with each other on a “need to know” basis while maintaining confidentiality to provide a Christ-centered health ministry. If you have any questions concerning this please, don’t hesitate to ask one of the Pastor’s or Parish Nurse.”

Gentle reminders and time seem to have smoothed the transition as our congregation became familiar with the role of the Parish Nurse and the HIPAA law. It is a privilege to humbly serve my Lord and His people with my God given nursing skills.

Together in Christ,

Sue Bolha RN, Parish Nurse

David’s Star Lutheran Church


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