Nancy Polikoff

HHS proposed regs on hospital visitation ignore the needs of those incapable of naming visitors

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | June 27, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, Department of Health and Human Services, gay couples, hospital visitation rights, Janice Langbehn, Julie Goodridge, lesbian couples, LGBT community, new regulations

If ever there was a bi-partisan no-brainer it is that every hospitalized patient should be able to name his or her visitors, subject to a medical reason to exclude them. The proposed regs emerging from the Obama administration (on line now but subject to official publication on Monday) accomplish no more than that.

But what about emergencies, about patients unable to name their visitors? The proposed regulations are entirely silent on that, and we need comments in droves to get these regs to really meet the needs of the LGBT community.

To put this in perspective, I can only think of one well-known story of denied hospital visitation that would have been helped by the proposed regs. Julie Goodridge (of the famous Massachusetts marriage case - now divorced, but I digress) entered the hospital for the birth of the couple's daughter, and after complications and a cesarean section, her partner Hillary was denied the ability to visit her or their baby. (Hillary waited until the nursing shift changed and then identified herself as Julie's sister and got in.) Presumably when Julie entered the hospital she would have, if asked, identified Hillary as a visitor. The proposed regs require hospitals to tell patients they can choose their visitors.

But other cases, including Janice Langbehn's, for all the attention she has received from President Obama, are beyond the scope of these proposed regs. Janice's partner, Lisa, was an emergency admission. So was Robert Daniel, whose partner, Bill Flanigan, was denied access to him. (Lawsuits filed as a result of the actions of these hospitals failed). And Sharon Kowalski, whose partner, Karen Thompson's, battle to care for Sharon began when the hospital refused her access to Sharon on the night of Sharon's car crash.

Comprehensive regulations must address emergency circumstances by directing hospitals to admit certain categories of individuals as visitors. Here's my list: anyone named in a medical power of attorney, including alternates; anyone residing with the patient; anyone whose relationship to the patient places that person anywhere on the state's list of surrogate decisionmakers should the patient not have a medical power of attorney (this last one is very important as about 20 states include "close friends" on the list, and many LGBT individuals acknowledge their close friends as their family); and domestic partners. Now that federal regulations on sick leave by federal employees include and define the term "domestic partner" there is every reason to include this category in those who must be allowed to visit a hospitalized patient unable to name visitors.

Maybe there are better ideas than mine. So let's get talking. The one thing I know is that the proposed regs are painfully inadequate.

(crossposted from Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage)


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looking for other examples?

what about those who live in institutional settings: older people with partners who can no longer live together or those who might be profoundly disabled and living in the same kind of environment?

that's a long-term issue, and it's easy to see how abuse can occur.

Hospitals stays are both scary and boring. More visitors the better, especially roommates. Obviously these people are already OK with living with one another.

I agree. Proposed registration is a waste of time. If the visitor is already a family member or known acquaintance, they should be given access.

I agree. Proposed registration is a waste of time. If the visitor is already a family member or known acquaintance, they should be given access.

kathygnome | June 28, 2010 8:11 AM

I'll be honest, while I'd like to get on the bandwagon and all that, I want control over who is allowed to visit me and that doesn't include someone renting a room or random people who think they are my friends. There should be a simple way to list who you want to visit you, but it should not be a broad spectrum of random people. I have a right to privacy, just as I have a right to have my partner allowed to visit me.

Why does it just feel as if all these rules are aimed more at keeping certain people out than allowing ill folks to be surrounded by loved ones?