HHS Releases Finalized Hospital Visitation Regs: Lambda Legal, NHeLP and GLMA say 'Good First Step'

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"Everyone should be able to have their loved ones with them in a time of crisis."
November 17, 2010
Tara Borelli

"This is a very important first step to address the barriers many same-sex couples and their families face in medical emergencies."

(New York, NY, November 17, 2010)—Lambda Legal, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) applauded the announcement today by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of new rules governing the treatment that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (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.

"Everyone should be able to have their loved ones with them in a time of crisis," said Staff Attorney Tara Borelli, who manages Lambda Legal's health care fairness advocacy work. "While the new regulations don't address every concern we've expressed—including what happens if a patient is incapacitated—we're encouraged that HHS has said we can expect announcements of additional guidance. This is a very important first step to address the barriers many same-sex couples and their families face in medical emergencies. Same-sex couples should be aware, however, that they still need to complete documentation designating a health care agent to be fully protected under these rules."

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. 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 and GLMA 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.

"We are hopeful that these measures will help ensure that no family will have to experience what our client, Janice Langbehn, and her family did that night at Jackson Memorial Hospital," said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Beth Littrell, who represented Langbehn.

"I am pleased to see that President Obama's promise for equality in hospitals has come to fruition. Our family endured an eight hour nightmare but thanks to Lambda Legal, President Obama, and Secretary Sebelius, no family will face the same situation," said Langbehn, who was on the call with Secretary Sebelius today.

In April of this year President Obama issued a presidential memo directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take steps to address hospital visitation and other health care issues affecting LGBT families. President Obama then called Langbehn to express his sympathies for the tragic loss of her partner and the treatment she suffered.

"LGBT patients and their families continue to face widespread ignorance and discrimination in health care settings," said GLMA Executive Director Hector Vargas. "We're grateful that President Obama recognized a longstanding need: to ensure that hospitals recognize patients' family members and loved ones without discrimination."

"This is certainly a major step forward and will be of enormous help—especially to lower-income members of the LGBT community, who are doubly vulnerable in health care settings," said Susan Berke Fogel, Senior attorney with NHeLP.

In August, Lambda Legal, GLMA and NHeLP submitted 26 pages of comments on HHS's draft regulations, expressing concerns over who may visit when an incapacitated patient has not designated someone to make decisions; the need for an appeals procedure for visitation denials; and that hospices and nursing homes have LGBT-specific nondiscrimination policies in place. The new regulations leave these concerns unaddressed, though HHS has promised further guidance.

Read the regulations.

Read more about the Langbehn case.


Media contacts:


Contact Info

Contact: Tom Warnke; 213-382-7600 ex 247;[email protected]

Hector Vargas, Gay & Lesbian Medical Association: 415-255-4547; Email: [email protected]

Susan Berke Fogel, National Health Law Program: 818-621-7358; [email protected]

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

GLMA is the world's largest and oldest association of LGBT health care professionals. Dedicated to ensuring equality in health care for LGBT patients and health care providers, GLMA is a national leader in public policy advocacy related to the full range of issues affecting LGBT health.

NHeLP is a national public interest law firm working to improve access to quality care on behalf of limited-income people and others who experience health care disparities, by providing legal and policy analysis, advocacy, information, and education. NHeLP is committed to ensuring cultural and linguistic access to health care, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other personal traits.

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