Terry Firma on the Friendly Atheist blog delved deeper into the story, getting further details from Scott (last name withheld), who is user chuckyourface. Scott explained that the hospital was the only one nearby, and he and his wife didn’t have good alternatives for healthcare.
He told The Huffington Post that Ardmore, Oklahoma is a very religious area with a high concentration of Protestant churches.
Scott submitted an online complaint to the hospital which said:
On Monday, 2/3/14, I took my wife in for tests at [local] hospital. We were directed to room 4 to register. Unfortunately I did not catch the name of the woman that took us through the registration process, but I feel she needs to be coached on her interactions.
During the process, she asked my wife the usual questions, including “do you have a religious preference.” My wife answered no, and I asked the receptionist does that mean the hospital gets to pick a religion for her since she has no preference. I asked because we are a non-religious family, and I was afraid of the hospital assigning her a catholic priest in the event that something went wrong. She said she just chose No Preference on the form. That should have been the end of the conversation.
The receptionist shared with us some very appalling thoughts next. She said she has had two atheists come through during her time in this position. One was a typical punk teenager with black eye-liner and just didn’t know any better. The other surprised her because she was a sweet lady with two cute kids. When the patient said she was atheist, the receptionist thought “how can she say that in front of those kids. You shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce if that’s how you feel.” It was very difficult for me to refrain from explaining that is how I feel and I have reproduced. But I was there helping my wife, and she is very non-confrontational, so I bit my tongue.
After these insulting and offensive remarks about our lack of religion, she went on to complain about HIPPA. She said in the good old days, preachers and priests could come in and get printouts of the patients so they could go to the rooms to preach. Now, thanks to HIPPA, preachers have to know a patient’s name to get in. This just further demonstrated her disregard for patient privacy.
I’m not sure what made her think we were the right audience for her to say such negative things about atheists and patient privacy, but we were not. We sat there quietly while she ranted without saying anything, because we had nothing nice to say in response at the time. Even if we had declared ourselves to be militant theists and opponents of patient privacy, she should not have made these remarks to us in that setting.
Please see to it that this receptionist is reminded of the importance of patient privacy and does not make future patients feel so unwelcomed. I will be glad to answer any questions or provide any additional details as you need at the phone number or email address listed.Scott told The Huffington Post that the incident made him feel, “in a word– unwelcomed.”
Firma reported that Scott and his wife received a response to their official complaint from Kathryn Abbey, the Vice President of Mission and Ethics at the Ardmore Mercy Memorial. He said, “She was very apologetic and appreciative of my feedback. She assured me she had spoken with the president, human resources, and VP of registration about the incident. They were able to find the receptionist in question and she will be coached on her next shift. Kathryn assured me this is not acceptable.”
He told The Huffington Post that Abbey’s apology was more than he expected, but that he isn’t confident that a similar incident won’t necessarily happen again to the next religious or non-religious minority who goes to Mercy for care.