defeated on so many levels

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit by a lesbian who was banned by a Florida hospital from being with her life partner during her final hours.

Lisa Pond, Janice Langbehn and their three adopted children were on a gay “R Family” cruise in February 2007 when Pond, 39, suffered a brain aneurysm that led to her being hospitalized.

Despite the couple having the necessary legal forms, officials at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami allegedly prevented Langbehn and the couple’s children from seeing Pond during her final hours. Hospital officials allegedly informed Langbehn that she was in an anti-gay city and state, and that they would not recognize her power of attorney authority.

Here is Lambda Legal’s complete press release on today’s ruling:

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida today rejected Lambda Legal’s lawsuit filed against Jackson Memorial Hospital on behalf of Janice Langbehn, the Estate of Lisa Pond and their three adopted children who were kept apart by hospital staff for eight hours as Lisa slipped into a coma and died.

“The court’s decision paints a tragically stark picture of how vulnerable same-sex couples and their families really are during times of crisis,” said Beth Littrell, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “We hope that because of Janice’s courage to seek justice for her family in this case that more people better understand the costs of antigay discrimination. This should never happen to anyone.”

While on a family cruise leaving from Miami, Lisa Pond, a healthy 39 year-old, suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital with her partner Janice and three children following close behind. There, the hospital refused to accept information from Janice about her partner’s medical history. Janice was informed that she was in an antigay city and state, and she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as Lisa’s partner or family. A doctor finally spoke with Janice telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Other than one five minute visit that was arranged by a Catholic priest at Janice’s request to perform last rites, and despite the doctor’s acknowledgement that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Janice – who provided the hospital with a medical Power of Attorney document — nor their children were allowed to see Lisa until nearly eight hours after their arrival. Soon after Lisa’s death, Janice tried to get her death certificate in order to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for their children. She was denied both by the State of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner.

Today’s ruling comes after the Public Health Trust of the Miami Dade County, the governing body of Jackson Memorial Hospital, filed a motion to dismiss the case. The court ruled that the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit. The court has given the Langbehn-Pond family until October 16 to review the ruling and consider all legal options.

Beth Littrell, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta is lead counsel on the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Donald J. Hayden of Baker & McKenzie, LLP.

10 thoughts on “defeated on so many levels

    1. Oh Garrison if right now I could see beyond the next five minutes I hope I can. All the speaking, video and newspaper coverage has been difficult but felt so important.. I worry that now there will be a footnote to our story – she tried but failed.. just like I failed to be with lisa at her last moments. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate you coming and stopping by.

  1. Philip

    Jan, I read about this on another blog and wanted to stop by and let you know that my heart goes out to you. This is tragic (and terrifying) in so many ways. I sincerely hope you are able to find justice.

  2. Tinga Mastrelli

    Oh Jan, I am so sorry. For your tragic loss, for this ridiculous and confounding decision and for the state of our stupid country. You have not failed, our justice system has failed you. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you are still going through. You have deep wells of strength to have fought this as far as you have, and I wish I could take some of the burdens off your shoulders.

    Please let us know what we can do to help. You and the children are in my thoughts.

  3. Nunya

    To quote Lord of the Rings…

    “There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.”

    The mind boggles that they refused recognition of the power of attorney – that has nothing to do with whether they like gays or not. That is refusing to abide by the law of the land. The organization and individuals involved in this should be made to pay and made to pay dearly for what they’ve done.

  4. Hi, Janice,

    I’m the editor of Southern Voice, and posted the story you linked here. It’s a heartbreaking story and any of us could be in your shoes. I think of the dozens of times my partner of 12 years and I, with our two kids, have visited Florida without remembering to have our powers of attorney with us; and then to think they may not even be honored if we do.

    Please do not think you have in any way failed. This is no more your fault than the terrible hospital that did this to begin with. You have educated many, and will continue to do so, as this story isn’t being forgotten.

    Laura Douglas-Brown

  5. Tom Brown

    New Church Family, a gay-affirming church in Daytona, is praying for the well-being of your family and for justice to prevail. Even if one judge has dealt you a setback, this is a powerful wake-up call for all gay families to be vigilant and aggressive in protecting their loved ones who end up in ICUs. President Obama has said so many times in campaign speeches that gay people deserve equal access in hospitals — let’s see if he will ask Congress to make that a matter of federal law. If Jackson was in danger of losing its Medicare and Medicaid funds, I’m sure it would do a much better job of treating LGBT patients and families with respect.

  6. Mary

    My husband found your story on Asterisk and cried as he read it aloud to me. If there is anything strangers like us can do to help, please let us know.

  7. Jim F. Higy

    Janice, and Kids,

    I’m SO Sorry to hear that you all had to become another foot note in our History…

    Working in the Health Care/Insurance I know that there is actually no legal means, no HIPPA, PHI that you and your children had violated. No City and State Laws (in most)…

    The only violation that occurred is your rights as loved ones.

    I suppose the ruling is right in part, a Hospital Facility does not have to allow any visitors, Adult or Child, and of any Orientation, and regardless of the Documentation. But to allow others that right and privilege, is to violate, discriminate, and mock your family and that is indeed WRONG.

    I don’t know what legal grounds one would have, but I do at least feel loved ones and friends have the right to see their loved one who is a patient no matter where they are.

    I do know, that you all had the right to select that hospital, and to have her moved elsewhere, and the power of attorney should have given you that much. But that is water under the bridge, hind sight being 20/20.

    What good to come of all of this, will be that your Children will learn a valuable lesson about Rights, about Discrimination, Love, and Grace. The power of the People, and the Laws, and how the People can Change the Laws, and the Laws are always Changing, and can Be Changed.

    I’m sorry for your loss, and that this only adds salt to the wound. And that you all have to be a poster family for Change and Equality for GLBT Rights.

    God Bless you all,

    Jim F. Higy

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