(Courtesy of SMGH) You are scheduled for a hospital stay that may be during Pesach. What do you do?
“Knowing the extensive staff education we have done and continue to do at St. Mary’s General Hospital,” said George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison, “I thought it is important for our community to understand what they should know if they are going to a hospital other than St. Mary’s General. So, we bring to you this checklist to ask before going to a hospital.”
1. Resources. Be certain that the hospital has adequate resources so that the staff can ask questions of the right individual or organization. This would include a rabbi, community liaison, a hospital executive or support groups such as Bikur Cholim or Chevra Kadisha.
2. Shabbat Restrictions. Can visitors enter the hospital on Shabbat? Are the electronic doors or elevators Shabbat ready? If you are in a bed, how do you call a nurse or raise your bed? Turn on/off lights? Do they have a Shabbat room for guests? What if you are rushed to the hospital on Shabbat and can’t sign registration forms? Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump? Tearing of paper? Hadlakas neiros Shabbos?
3. Kosher Food. Most hospitals have kosher food available, but do they understand our restrictions? Is it glatt kosher? Under which hashgacha? Double wrapped? Fleishig versus milchig? Pesach—no chametz and kosher l’Pesach hechsher? Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi, especially on Pesach?
4. Seder. If, chas v’shalom, you are in a hospital for Pesach, can they accommodate a seder? Perhaps a Zoom seder if permitted by your LOR? Seder plates and food? Accommodate family members?
5. Tznius. Hospital gowns are not designed for frum Jews. Is the hospital aware of tznius? What accommodations are there? Do they understand same gender care? Can you wear your sheitel or tichel?
6. Davening. Can they accommodate our davening needs? In a minyan? Or at least being able to wear tallis and tefillin?
7. Childbirth. Babies born in a hospital are usually circumcised in the hospital. Are they aware of a brit milah and the need for a mohel?
8. Prolonging life/euthanasia. Withdrawing life support after a patient has been certified as brain-stem dead is a highly controversial area of Jewish law. Are they aware that Jewish law forbids active euthanasia as human life is considered sacred?
9. Death. “What do you mean, we can’t move the body? We have to take it to the morgue.” Try to explain to them how we don’t touch a body until the chevra kadisha arrives and that we will not leave the body alone. And, if a limb was amputated we want it back to be buried with the body. And, if death is on Shabbat or Yom Tov, that the body may not be moved but will be guarded.
In conclusion, hospital staff have to understand that Judaism places human life above all else. Thus, in a life-threatening situation, they should do what is needed to save the life, even if that means violating Jewish law. However, if the situation isn’t immediately threatening, then they should take Jewish law into consideration.
“Staff education at St. Mary’s General Hospital was quite intense and well-received by staff,” said Matyjewicz. “Sessions geared for 90 minutes never ended before four 4 hours, even with staff coming off duty on a 12-hour night shift! The interaction was excellent as staff wanted to know the detailed requirements of Orthodox patients.
“We used a proprietary education program entitled, ‘Understanding Judaism: The Professional’s Guide in a Hospital Environment,’ and how to address the four non-medical main areas of concern while a patient is in the hospital—tznius, kashrus, davening and Shabbos/Yom Tovim. Patients and their guests can now feel comfortable coming to St. Mary’s General knowing that staff is aware of their needs and restrictions. And if a staff member is in doubt, they know [from] whom to seek proper guidance.”
The program was developed by George Matyjewicz, PhD, a Jew by choice, having converted in 2005, and who has been a senior staff member of hospitals for the past 17 years. “The program utilizes material developed by the New Jersey Chaplain’s Association’s Cultural Sensitivity Training Program for Shabbos & Yom Tovim,” said Matyjewicz. “To which I added everyday material that our community lives with that staff need to know. As somebody who has lived in both worlds it is easier for me to educate others. And I can call on our advisory board or any of our 30 shul rabbanim for assistance if necessary.”
St. Mary’s General Hospital—nationally recognized, locally preferred among the top hospitals in America for health, quality and patient safety! A center of excellence for maternal-child, the hospital has over 550 physicians and 1,200 employees, with every staff member committed to providing respectful, personalized, high-quality care to satisfy patients’ needs and exceed their expectations. St. Mary’s General is a proud member of Prime Healthcare, which has more Patient Safety Excellence Award recipients for five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country including a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about St. Mary’s General Hospital visit https://www.smh-nj.com/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StMarysGeneral.
For more information, please contact George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison at [email protected].