Health & Human Services Letter Gives New Pro-LGBT Hospital Visitation Guidelines Teeth
Hospitals are now required to allow designated persons—including same-sex partners in states that don’t allow marriage, along with close friends and non-blood kin—to visit their loved ones.
Despite President Obama’s April 15, 2010 memo requiring hospitals to grant visitation rights to non-relatives, there has been a delay in practical application. That delay ended last week, after the Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter to states that included a plan for enforcement.
Obama’s 2010 memo explicitly referenced the disparity between the treatment of same-sex and heterosexual couples, both in visitation rights and the ability to make decisions for incapacitated partners. The president wrote:
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 presidential memo also mentioned the inclusion of good friends and religious leaders in hospital visitation, and barred hospitals from blocking visitors on the basis of gender, disability, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
While there are no statistics for how many partners and friends have been denied access to their loved ones’ bedsides, the anecdotes are harrowing.
Two women who were not allowed to be with their dying female partners were featured in a 2009 New York Times story after they filed suit against the responsible hospitals.
Obama cited one of the women as his inspiration: Despite a living will and advance medical directive, Janice Langbehn was kept in the waiting room while her partner was treated for a fatal aneurysm and only allowed in when a priest administered final rites.
Under the new system, respect of patients’ designated representatives and visitation preferences will be included in surveys of facilities by state and certification groups. Accreditation will not be contingent on hospitals’ acceptance of non-blood, non-marriage partners, but the government could terminate the Medicare provider agreement for hospitals that do not comply with the order.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.