Johnson City patient denied visit to hospital chapel after cancer diagnosis

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – On the day doctors diagnosed a Johnson City Medical Center patient with cancer, she says hospital employees refused to let her go to the chapel to pray.

Teresa Alvey says workers cited a change in hospital policy as the reason. Alvey says during a visit last month doctors found cancerous tumors in her lungs and head.

“It’s in Stage 4, because it’s spreading to my brain,” she said. “I’ve got like 20 something rounds of radiation for my head and once that starts they’ll start the chemo on my lungs.”

Alvey says after doctors gave her the news, she asked to leave her room on the fourth floor of the hospital, hoping to visit the chapel on the second floor. She says employees told her she couldn’t go anywhere without doctor’s approval.

“You can’t give people devastating news and then say, ‘Lay in your bed and stare at four walls for the next 10 hours,'” she said. “I asked the nurses. I asked everybody you could think of, ‘Just walk me down there, I don’t want to go outside, you can sit with me,’ but they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t even let my pastor take me down.”

Mountain States Health Alliance confirmed in a statement that it recently implemented a patient safety policy at JCMC and Franklin Woods Community Hospital. The policy is meant to “provide an extra layer of protection for patients who are at high risk of injury or infection due to their medical condition,” the health system said.

“High-risk patients are asked to remain on their care unit throughout the duration of their stay so that nurses and other clinical staff can be close by to monitor the patient’s condition and provide appropriate medical care,” the statement, attributed to JCMC, said. “In order to improve the patient experience and promote spiritual and emotional healing in addition to physical care, we offer a host of in-room services where appropriate, including pastoral care, staff and community volunteer chaplains, pet therapy, music therapy, and more. There are many occasions when it is medically unsafe for a patient to leave the care unit to visit the chapel, and in those circumstances, every attempt would be made to meet the patient’s spiritual needs in his or her room if the patient so requests.”

JCMC says in the past it has offered baptisms, weddings, communion, anointing and scripture readings in hospital rooms at the request of patients.

Alvey says the hospital did not make every effort to give her spiritual support. In fact, she says employee didn’t even tell her in-room services were an option.

Today, in the midst of her daily cancer treatments, Alvey says she’s just thankful she has the support of her family and friends. As the mother tries to make the most of her time, she hopes her story will convince MSHA to reconsider its policy.

“I want to see them change that,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that mad. I was rude, I know I was, but I felt more like a prisoner.”

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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