They provide spiritual support and give sacraments. Hospital chaplains are employed at most facilities. The patient has a statutory right to ask for a meeting with one and health care facilities are obliged to finance such services.
The Ministry of Health explains that the guaranteed right to pastoral care includes the right to directly contact a spiritual care-giver of the patient’s religion, participate in religious ceremonies held at the hospital, receive sacraments, and, in the case of a deterioration in health that causes anxiety, to immediately notify and contact a spiritual care-giver.
The legal regulations behind the hospital chaplains
Pastoral care in hospitals is regulated by a number of legal acts, starting from the Constitution, which grants every citizen the right to religious assistance regardless of the place of stay.
More specifically, the Act on Patients’ Rights and the Patients’ Rights Ombudsman guarantees the right to pastoral care to patients staying in a hospital, nursing homes, chronic medical care homes, or hospice.
“The patient should be informed about the specific religious denominations of hospital chaplains, the ways to contact them, and the time and place of services or ceremonies they conduct," the Ministry of Health explained in 2013, in response to a speech on this matter by the Patients’ Rights Ombudsman.
The details are up to hospitals
The regulations do not provide for the way a hospital director should guarantee the patients’ right to pastoral care – whether a contract is signed with the minister, what type of a contract it should be, or how the minister will access the hospital premises.
Also the decision on whether a chapel is provided is up to the hospital’s management, but many, if not most, large health care facilities have them.
Not just Polish law
Employing hospital chaplains and organising pastoral care in health care facilities is also regulated by the Acts on the relationship of the state with churches and denominations.
The Concordat between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland requires that the state facilitate the participation in Holy Mass on Sundays and holidays of patients who, due to their health condition, stay in a hospital or e.g. hospice for a long time. It also provides for the catechisation of children and the organisation of church retreat for such long-term inpatients.
Who pays for the chaplain’s services
The cost of employing chaplains is borne by the respective health care entities. Chaplains can sign contracts of employment or civil law contracts, such as contracts of mandate. The cost of hiring hospital chaplains is borne by the hospital.
In late 2012 the Ministry of Health informed that most chaplains working at hospitals directly reporting to the Ministry were employed on the basis of employment contracts. On average, these involve 1.5 full-time equivalents, costing hospitals about PLN 4 thousand per month.