Posted on April 16, 2010

Source:  From Human Rights Campaign.

Today, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum taking important steps to protect the visitation and healthcare decision-making rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This important action was inspired by last year’s New York Times profile of the tragic experience of partners Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn. Despite having an advanced healthcare directive, Janice, and the couple’s children, were kept from Lisa’s bedside as she lay dying. Lambda Legal represented Janice in a lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and worked with them to revise their policies in the wake of the tragedy. As part of its ongoing efforts to promote executive actions which would improve the lives of LGBT Americans, the Human Rights Campaign worked with White House and Department of Health and Human Services staff in support of today’s memorandum.

“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the President’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family.”

According to today’s announcement, the memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to promulgate a regulation requiring all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding – nearly every hospital in America – to allow patients to designate who may visit them and prohibiting discrimination in visitation based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, the memorandum calls on the Secretary to issue new guidance and provide technical assistance to hospitals to help them comply with existing federal regulations that require them to respect individuals’ advanced healthcare directives and other documents establishing who should make healthcare decisions for them when they are unable to do so. Finally, the memorandum directs HHS to conduct a larger study of the barriers LGBT people and their families face in accessing healthcare.

In addition to efforts to address these and other issues facing LGBT people through executive and legislative action, the HRC Foundation has worked for several years to encourage hospitals and other healthcare providers to adopt pro-LGBT policies and practices. Since 2007, the Foundation, in a joint effort with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, has published the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), a rating of healthcare facilities based on five main policy criteria: patient non-discrimination, visitation, decision making, cultural competency training and employment policies and benefits. In 2009, ten facilities reported LGBT-inclusive policies and practices for every one of the 10 HEI rated criteria. The 2010 HEI will be released in the coming weeks.