Friday, June 25, 2010

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

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.

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