Several Jackson Memorial Hospital nurses personally apologized to Janice Langbehn, a Washington state lesbian who said a Jackson social worker wouldn’t allow her to be with her dying partner in 2007.
“We certainly are sorry for the pain and suffering she felt,” said Martha Baker, a registered nurse and president of SEIU local 1991, the union representing about 5,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals at Jackson.
“I apologize,” said registered nurse Norberto Molina, chairman of the union’s gay Lavender Caucus. “I can’t imagine what you went through.”
The apologies came at a town hall-style meeting Thursday night at Unity on the Bay church in which Langbehn returned to Miami as a speaker. Baker, Molina and two other Jackson nurses, Jim Nicholson and Diane Poirier, along with 60 other people, attended the meeting.
Langbehn, whose lawsuit against Jackson was dismissed in September by a federal court in Miami, gracefully welcomed the nurses’ personal gesture. But she still wants the hospital to apologize formally.
“The management has to do it,” Langbehn said.
She tearfully told the audience of her final moments with longtime partner Lisa Pond, who suffered a fatal brain aneurysm on Feb. 18, 2007, shortly before they were to sail with their three children on a Caribbean cruise for gay families.
At Jackson, Langbehn said, a social worker would not let her visit Pond because Florida is “an anti-gay state.” Pond, 39, died the next day.
Langbehn, with the help of Lambda Legal, sued the hospital. The case, which received publicity around the country, was dismissed without a decision whether Jackson discriminated against Langbehn because she is gay. The court determined Jackson had no legal obligation to allow anyone to visit a patient.
“It’s my duty to speak out, that this should never happen to another family of ours,” said Langbehn, seated next to her attorney, Beth Littrell of Lambda Legal in Atlanta, Stratton Pollitzer of Equality Florida and Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who specializes in nontraditional-family issues. C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, moderated.
From the beginning, Jackson has said Langbehn was not discriminated against and defended social worker Garnett Frederick, who denied making the offensive comment.
“We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care,” Jackson spokeswoman Jennifer Piedra said in a news release after the case was dismissed in September.
“At Jackson Health System, we believe in a culture of inclusion. For more than 90 years, the institution has taken great pride in serving everyone who enters its doors, regardless of race, creed, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. We also employ a very diverse workforce, one that mirrors the community we serve.”
Added Piedra: “Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care.”
Ortuño told the audience that, indeed, Jackson has met with a group of South Florida gay activists to make sure gay people’s rights at the hospital are upheld.
Activists say they hope to use the Langbehn-Pond case as an example of why laws are needed to protect gay families.
“These stories, these tragedies can change the minds of lawmakers,” Pollitzer said.
Schwartz said that until laws are passed protecting gay families, it is imperative that they protect themselves. “The No. 1 thing, the most important thing, is to have a will,” Schwartz said.
Baker, a lesbian who has worked at Jackson for nearly a quarter century, said she is heartbroken the hospital has been accused of being antigay.
“It’s a shame that the public hospital that delivers care [here] is the focus of her pain,” said Baker, also a Lavender Caucus member. “Is Jackson homophobic? Oh, no. I’d say 30 percent of our staff is gay or lesbian. A lot of us work here because it is considered a safe space here in Miami-Dade County.”