Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital
Just as Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond were about to depart from Miami on a family cruise with their three children, Pond suddenly collapsed. From the moment Langbehn and the children arrived at Jackson Memorial Hospital, they encountered prejudice and apathy. Even though Langbehn held Pond’s durable health care power of attorney, the hospital refused to accept information from Langbehn regarding Pond's medical history. The hospital also informed her that she was in an antigay city and state and that she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family. A doctor finally spoke with Langbehn, telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Despite the doctor's acknowledgment that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Langbehn nor her children were allowed to see Pond until nearly eight hours after their arrival. Soon after Pond's death, Langbehn attempted to obtain her death certificate in order to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for her children. She was denied both by the state of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner. Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital, on behalf of Janice Langbehn and her three children.
Because they are prohibited from marrying, gay and lesbian partners too often have to argue their right to hospital visits with ill loved ones. National standards for hospital accreditation allow visitation to family members; people not legally related are considered family members if they play a significant role in the patient's life.
Lambda Legal's Impact
This case illustrates the need for hospitals to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex relationships so that loved ones are not kept apart at a time when they most need each other. Furthermore, hospitals are fully responsible for adhering to national standards for accreditation and should be held liable if those standards are not met. Lambda Legal has published a life planning tool-kit, a portion of which is designed to help same-sex partners protect themselves in a hospital setting by preparing legal documents in advance.
- June 2008 Lambda Legal files lawsuit in the state of Florida
- February 2009 Lambda Legal argues in a Miami federal court that the hospital's motion to dismiss should be denied and that the Langbehn family deserves their day in court.
- September 2009 Court dismisses the suit. Lambda Legal has until October 16 to consider all legal options.
- April 2010 Jackson Memorial Hospital announces improved policies that are more responsive to the needs of the LGBT community but do not provide as much protection as may be needed in critical situations. Lambda Legal urges Jackson Memorial Hospital to enact a full grievance procedure and also to issue an apology to the Langbehn-Pond family.
- April 2010 President Obama issues a memo directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take steps to address hospital visitation and other health care issues affecting LGBT families. The President calls Langbehn from Air Force One to inform her of the memo and to express his sympathies for the tragic loss of her partner Lisa Pond and the treatment she suffered.
- June 2010 Langbehn and her family attend the White House LGBT Pride event.
- August 2010 Lambda Legal, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association and the National Health Law Program file 26 pages of comments on proposed hospital visitation guidelines for LGBT patients.
- November 2010 Department of Health and Human Services releases new regulations governing the treatment that LGBT patients and their families should receive in federally funded hospitals across the nation. The new regulations require hospitals to have written visitation policies; to inform patients of their right to designate visitors, including a same-sex spouse or domestic partner; and to not discriminate with respect to visitation rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics.
- January 2011 New federal regulations regarding hospital visitation rights go into effect.
- October 2011 Langbehn is awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, "for her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally."
Donald J. Hayden of Baker & McKenzie, LLP