Washington D.C., August 27, 2010) — Lambda Legal, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association and the National Health Law Program today filed 26 pages of comments on proposed guidelines to eliminate discrimination in visitation against the families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients published in June by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The department invited comment from the public, as well as experts on healthcare and LGBT issues, by today.
President Obama issued a presidential memo in April directing HHS to develop new hospital visitation guidelines to help ensure respect for the families of LGBT patients. He was inspired to act by the ordeal of Lambda Legal client Janice Langbehn, who was denied access to her dying life partner, Lisa Pond, in a Florida hospital. Obama called Langbehn from Airforce One to tell her personally about the memo and to offer his condolences.
“No one should have to sit powerless, as I did, as the person you love most in the world slips away in a nearby room,” said Langbehn. “Lesbian and gay patients – not hospital staff – should determine who their family is. This is a major step forward.”
Last September, in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit on behalf of Langbehn against Jackson Memorial Hospital, a federal court in Florida concluded that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see Pond. “We know from the experience of Janice and others that existing laws aren’t enough,” said Beth Litrell, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney and Janice Langbehn’s lead lawyer. “Having clear and protective guidelines is vitally important,” she said.
Staff Attorney Tara Borelli manages Lambda Legal’s healthcare fairness advocacy and was the principle author of the comments submitted today. “While the proposed new rules are certainly good news, important clarifications are needed,” Borelli said. “One major problem is the uncertainty when a patient is incapacitated and can’t designate who can visit. The regulations do not address this common scenario, and definitely should.”
The comments submitted to HHS today by the three expert organizations include the following recommendations, among others:
- guidelines must address one of the greatest vulnerabilities of LGBT patients: who may visit when an incapacitated patient has not designated someone to make decisions;
- requiring documentation of the patient-visitor relationship should rarely be necessary and must not be discriminatorily applied to LGBT people;
- the visitation rules for hospice and nursing home facilities must include explicit nondiscrimination language to effectively protect LGBT patients and their families; and
- there must be an appeals procedure for visitation denials and patients must be informed about it.
“As GLMA’s health care professional members know, and the social science research supports, allowing loved ones greater access to patients in hospitals improves patient health outcomes,” said Hector Vargas, Executive Director of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association. “A patient- and family-centered approach to hospital visitation policies as well as for overall health is crucial for LGBT patients and their families, who continue to face pervasive discrimination in health care settings.”
“There are a great number of poor LGBT people in this country who are among the most vulnerable in health care settings. The National Health Law Program supports President Obama’s directive for regulations to ensure that patients can have their loved ones at their bedsides during moments of medical crisis.” said Doreena Wong, Senior Attorney with the National Health Law Program.
To see the comments, log on to www.lambdalegal.org/hospital-visitation-comments. For background on Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial, go to http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/langbehn-v-jackson-memorial.html