President Obama Orders Hospital Visitation Rights for All Patients

BlogHer Original Post

In a memo issued Thursday, President Barack Obama directed the Secretary of the Health and Human Services agency "to ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors." This order, which covers most hospitals in the United States, is being hailed as an important victory for the LGBT community. However, it also benefits many other individuals and communities, as well.

The widely reported case of Janice Langbehn served, in part, as a catalyst for the president's actions.

Langbehn, along with the couple's three children, was denied the ability to see her dying partner of 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond, when Pond was hospitalized in Florida in 2007.

After Pond's death, Langbehn sued the hospital, but the case was dismissed because there was no legislation requiring that visitation rights be granted to patients.

A Jackson Memorial Hospital official told Langbehn "[Miami] is an anti-gay city in an anti-gay state," clearly marking hers as a case of callous anti-gay discrimination. The hospital's argument and the court's dismissal of her case was additionally chilling in that it ruled that, absent specific legislation, patients have no human right to visitation when they are hospitalized.

Therefore, President Obama's memo made clear that in addition to protecting the rights of gays and lesbians, there are many other personal and family situations which this directive will now cover. The memo reports:

Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides -- whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay. Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.

The ability to visit life partners in the hospital is often used as an argument for legalizing gay marriage. However, that does not help me as a single woman. President Obama's efforts here cover both me and my two partnered lesbian sisters equally, and for that I am deeply appreciative.

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It's hard for me to imagine how someone, or many someones in Janice's case, could be so cruel to deny visitation and information her and their children. And for what purpose? What did it accomplish? I can't even begin to think how out of my mind I would have been if I had been in her position. It is unfortunate that stories like this are a sad and sobering reminder to make sure we have all of our legal ducks in a row.

Waymon Hudson at The Bilerico Project: Florida Hospital Changes LGBT Policies After Denying Lesbian the Right to Visit Her Dying Partner

Jackson Memorial has added a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, a patient's bill of rights that states the hospital's commitment to "providing quality care for LGBT patients", and a visitation policy that updates the definition of family to include same-sex partners and other people who may not be legally related to a patient.

That's a huge move forward from where the hospital was and sets a good example of the direction all healthcare providers should be moving.

egalia at Tennessee Guerilla Women: Obama Orders Hospitals to Honor Same-Sex Partner Rights (includes video)

Under the new rule, hospitals must allow lesbian and gay persons to have visitation rights. This is the kind of rule change that everyone thought Obama would implement in the first days of his term instead of only months before an election which some fear will be a Democratic bloodbath. Better late than never.

Ari Shapiro at NPR: Obama: Hospitals Must Grant Same-Sex Visitations (includes audio)

Some prominent gay and lesbian advocates said they had never thought of using Medicare and Medicaid funding as a tool to force hospitals to expand LGBT access. It's a move that Duffy of the Family Research Council calls "a big-government federal takeover of even the smallest details of the nation's health care system."

But this isn't the first time a president has used Medicare funding to expand access to hospitals.

When President Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965, many hospitals were racially segregated. That new law said hospitals that received federal Medicare dollars would have to integrate. Initially there was strong resistance, but within a year of Medicare's beginning, the desegregation of the nation's hospitals was essentially complete.

Nancy Polikoff at Beyond (Straight And Gay) Marriage: Obama's hospital visitation memo -- it's really not just about same-sex couples

The new regulations will not create a right for a same-sex partner or close friend to make medical decisions. That is still left to each of us to designate in writing, or to state law which often ignores unmarried partners and friends. But it's an important step for all of us, not just for those of us in couple relationships. Yeah!

Cara at The Curvature: Hospital Visitation Rights as Human Rights

I think also that this is not only about those people who would get married if they could, or who have legal documents that go unrecognized because they belong to two people of the same sex, and don't have the word "marriage" to back them up. I think of everyone else who doesn't have the word to back them up. I think of long-term committed couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, who have chosen to not get married. I think of couples who planned to get married but haven’t yet. I think of groups of friends who are not romantically involved, but feel like family to one another.

Karen at Pondering Penguin: Presidential Memo Signed for Patient Rights

The memo will, no doubt, be characterized as a new act of favoritism towards the gay community. The memo is more that that, though, and to characterize it otherwise is not fair....

This memo won't change any laws and will not even be noticed, except by those for whom it is written. Hospitals receiving federal funding -- Medicare and Medicaid -- will be required to abide by the new guidelines. This allows loved ones of any description to carry out the health care wishes of patients.

Common sense and decent human compassion. For all.

Maria Niles is also cheering Obama's memo at PopConsumer

BlogHer Contributing Editor PopConsumer Beyond Help

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