Presidential Memo on Healthcare: Cathcart says, "This is how change happens."

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"Even the court recognized that what happened to Janice and her family was wrong but had no legal recourse to address it."
April 16, 2010

(New York, NY, April 16, 2010) - Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart and Lambda Legal client Janice Langbehn issued the following statements reflecting on the policy change announced by the White House last night that will address hospital visitation and other health care issues affecting LGBT families.

"First a tragedy occurred – and a hospital treated a lesbian couple in an outrageous and discriminatory way. We sued the hospital on behalf of Janice and her family but the court found that even though what had happened to Janice was terribly wrong, there was no legal recourse. We never want to lose a case and our hearts were breaking for Janice, but sometimes this is how change happens. In this case, we lost a battle in court, but we won the war. The change ordered by the President will be more far-reaching than the court could have ordered in Florida."

"Together with Janice, we raised the issue and opened it up for public discussion," said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal. "Apparently, the President heard it and acted. When you stand up for what is right, you build toward the day when change is made. Lambda Legal and Janice never gave up fighting."

After speaking with the President late last night Janice wrote, "In those short minutes of speaking with our President, it was clear he got the issue, and now in reading his memorandum, I see he understood that what happened to Lisa, the kids and me was wrong on many levels - especially on the HUMAN level. None of this brings Lisa back. But what it does do – for the next gay couple – is to pave the way for better understanding about who family is and why patients must get to decide who that is. Hopefully if your partner is dying you won't be locked behind a door for 8 hours as they slip from this earth and not be allowed to say goodbye."

Last September, a federal district court rejected Lambda Legal's lawsuit filed against Jackson Memorial Hospital on behalf of Janice Langbehn, ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see her partner.

Judge Adalberto Jordan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida wrote in his decision, "If the plaintiffs' allegations are true, which I assume that they are when deciding the defendants' motion to dismiss, the defendants' lack of sensitivity and attention to Ms. Langbehn, Ms. Pond, and their children caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability. The defendants' failure to provide Ms. Langbehn and her children frequent updates on Ms. Pond's status, to allow Ms. Langbehn and her children to visit Ms. Pond after emergency medical care ceased; to inform Ms. Langbehn that Ms. Pond had been transferred to the intensive care unit, and to provide Ms. Langbehn Ms. Pond's medical records as she requested, exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center like Ryder. Unfortunately, no relief is available for these failures based on the allegations plead in the amended complaint."

Langbehn and the children were kept apart from Pond by hospital staff for eight hours as Pond slipped into a coma and later died. After that Lambda Legal worked with other LGBT organizations and officials at Jackson Memorial Hospital to change hospital policies on visitation and respecting the wishes of same-sex couples and their families.

The President's memorandum to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services includes the following: HHS should promulgate rules for hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funds that require them to respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. HHS should also take steps to ensure that such hospitals have adequate policies to respect the legal documents that some patients have designating who can make decisions for them if they are incapacitated. Finally, the President directs HHS to report back to him in 180 days with additional recommendations about actions it can take to address hospital visitation, medical decision-making and other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.



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