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Report: Most Hospitals Lack Gay Nondiscrimination Policies 

Report: Most Hospitals Lack Gay Nondiscrimination Policies 

President Barack Obama's April memorandum ordering hospitals to ensure visitation rights for same-sex partners will radically change how the vast majority of U.S. healthcare institutions currently treat gay and lesbian patients, a new study finds.

According to a report released Monday by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 93% of health care facilities surveyed currently lack comprehensive nondiscrimination policies for LGBT patients. Forty-two percent of hospitals do not include sexual orientation in patient's bill of rights language.

Such disparity can lead to disastrous consequences, as was the high-profile case of Lisa Pond, who died in 2007 of a brain aneurysm at a Miami hospital while vacationing with her partner of 21 years, Janice Langbehn, and their adopted children.

"I was promised I'd be able to see her, but in the ensuing five to six hours, no one came to get me, no one offered to bring me back to see her," Langbehn said at a Monday press conference in San Francisco. "It's not a gay right to hold your partner's hand when they're dying. It's a human right."

Langbehn sued Jackson Memorial Hospital after officials barred her and the couple's children from visiting Pond as she lay dying in a trauma unit.

A federal judge dismissed the suit in September, ruling, "Decisions as to visitation must be left to the medical personnel in charge of the patient, without second-guessing by juries and courts."

Obama's April memo directed Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to issue new rules within 180 days for LGBT patients and their families at any facility receiving government funding through Medicare and Medicaid -- the vast majority of health care facilities in the United States.

The new rules should "respect the rights of patients to designate visitors," according to the memo, and bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Appropriate guidelines would also respect advance directives, including powers of attorney, for patients with same-sex partners.

The Joint Commission, an independent health care accreditation group, also recently announced that it would accredit health care facilities based on nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT patients and their families. The updated policy is scheduled to go into effect before January 1, 2011.

"They are the gold standard when it comes to accreditation," said HRC vice president of communications and marketing Fred Sainz. "Without accreditation, insurance companies won't work with you. You can't get government money. Various finance agencies won't work with you. It's necessary, for hospitals to function, to become Joint Commission-accredited."

Together, the Joint Commission standards and the White House directive "mean that even in states like Mississippi that don't have nondiscrimination laws, hospitals will be the safe havens," Sainz said.

The HRC's Healthcare Equality Index analyzed 178 health care facilities nationwide on criteria including visitation rights for same-sex partners, staff diversity training, and employment nondiscrimination rules for LGBT staff.

Eleven health care facilities, including Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, received perfect scores based on index criteria. Kaiser Permanente, which operates 36 hospitals nationwide, was the only health care network to receive a perfect score.
Because many states prohibit marriage equality, civil unions, or domestic partnership rights for same-sex couples, Ellen Leonard, vice president for health plans and hospital operations at Kaiser, saidthat the organization's explicit nondiscrimination policy means that a person who purports to be the partner of a patient and requests visitation will be admitted to do so. "We don't ask for [documented] proof, it's not necessary for visitation rights," Leonard said.

A full list of hospital ratings in the HRC study is available here.
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