Hospital visitation rules take effect

Posted on 19 Jan 2011 at 10:14pm
Parkland Hospital

An executive order saying hospitals that receive federal funding must allow same-sex visitation went into effect on Tuesday.

Federal funding includes Medicare and Medicaid payments.

President Barack Obama issued the order last year after hearing about a case in which a woman wasn’t allowed to see her partner before she died.

“We applaud the Obama administration’s steps to address the discrimination affecting LGBT patients and their families,” Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart said in a statement. “Now, in hospitals across the nation, LGBT people and their families will have more protections so they can be by their loved one’s side when they are sick and need them most.”

The city of Dallas has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Partners in Dallas should have access based on public accommodations, and no complaints against a Dallas hospital has been filed since the ordinance went into effect.

Hospitals in other cities that prevented partners from visiting loved ones used the excuse that only immediate family members could visit.

I contacted several area hospitals for comment and heard back from Parkland.

“Parkland will continue to offer an open visitation policy to all patients and their family members. Research has shown that patient care is greatly enhanced by the more time a family spends with the patient,” said Miriam Sibley, Parkland’s senior vice president and chief nursing officer.

I thought this was interesting wording. While that same wording has been used elsewhere to exclude people, at Parkland it’s meant to express acceptance of same-sex partners as family that is — and has been — welcome.

The full Lambda Legal press release is after the jump.

With Hospital Visitation Regulations in Effect, Lambda Legal Thanks Client Janice Langbehn and Obama Administration

(New York, NY, January 19, 2011) —Yesterday, new federal regulations regarding hospital visitation rights went into effect. The new rules will affect same-sex couples and their families across the country.

“We applaud the Obama administration’s steps to address the discrimination affecting LGBT patients and their families,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director for Lambda Legal. “Now, in hospitals across the nation, LGBT people and their families will have more protections so they can be by their loved one’s side when they are sick and need them most.”

“We are grateful to Janice Langbehn for her courage and tireless dedication. Because Janice boldly told her story, President Obama heard about her and issued the directive last year that led to these new federal rules that will protect same-sex couples and their families across the country.”

“Yesterday, the rules went into effect and it also marked the 3 year and 11 month anniversary of Lisa’s passing,” said Janice Langbehn. “Lambda Legal stood by me and my children every step of the way. I hope that these new rules make sure that no family ever has to experience the nightmare that my family has gone through.”

The regulations require hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare to have written policies and procedures regarding patients’ visitation rights. Hospitals must now inform patients, or an attending friend or family member, of the patient’s rights to visitors of his or her choosing. The policy also prohibits discrimination against visitors based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

Lambda Legal has noted in comments submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services that some important protections still need to be added. The new regulations do not address who may visit when an incapacitated patient has not designated someone to make decisions; the need for an appeals procedure for visitation denials; and the need for hospices and nursing homes have LGBT-specific nondiscrimination policies in place. Lambda Legal emphasizes that everyone should have written advanced healthcare directives and other documents to ensure that their wishes are respected.

In June 2008, Lambda Legal filed suit against Jackson Memorial Hospital on behalf of Janice Langbehn. Langbehn and her children were kept apart from Pond by hospital staff for eight hours as Pond slipped into a coma and later died. Although a federal district court rejected Lambda Legal’s lawsuit, ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see her partner, Lambda Legal and Langbehn continued to work with other LGBT organizations and officials at Jackson Memorial Hospital to change hospital policies on visitation and respecting the wishes of same-sex couples and their families. In April 2010, President Obama issued a presidential memo directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take steps to address hospital visitation and other health care issues affecting LGBT families. President Obama then called Lambda Legal client Janice Langbehn to express his sympathies for the tragic loss of her partner Lisa Pond and the treatment she suffered.

Lambda Legal will present Janice Langbehn with its national Liberty Award in New York City on May 2, 2011.

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