North Carolina hospitals would be required to let a pastor or other clergy member visit a patient even during a declared emergency like a pandemic under legislation that received final General Assembly approval on Wednesday.
The Patient’s Religious Rights bill, also known as the “Jeff Rieg Law,” received unanimous Senate approval after it passed the North Carolina House by a wide margin in May.
“(This) meaningful legislation was inspired by a real-life story of folks not being able to see their pastor while in the hospital due to COVID,” wrote State Rep. Lee Zachary (R-73rd District) on Facebook. “It would mandate that any North Carolinian patient who requests a clergy visit can get one.”
The measure, which now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, was named for Jeff Rieg of Washington, North Carolina, who died at a Greenville hospital in 2020.
Rieg had been struck by a car, but COVID-19 visitation restrictions had prevented his family and pastors from seeing him. Ultimately, the hospital allowed the family to have a pastor visit Rieg before he died, the Washington Daily News reported.
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The so-called “Jeff Rieg Law” surfaced after other families told a legislator about similar obstacles.
Specifically, the bill requires hospitals to “allow a clergy member to visit any patient admitted to the hospital who requests or consents to be visited by a clergy member during the patient’s hospital stay.”
Concurrently, it also requires the minister to comply with health screenings and other infection controls that don’t interfere with religious beliefs. Hospitals could deny access to clergy members who didn’t pass the screening.