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Gays and lesbians now assured hospital visitation rights by Jackson Health System

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

langbehnPartners of gay and lesbian patients are now assured by Jackson Health System to have the same visiting rights as heterosexuals, according to a new Jackson policy that redefines the terms "family'' and "family member."

Recognized family members now may include people who are not legally related to the patient, including "spouses, domestic partners and both different-sex and same-sex significant others," announced SAVE Dade, one of several gay rights groups that worked for a year with Jackson to redefine the policy.

Gay and lesbian nonbiological parents are also assured of visits when minor children are hospitalized.

Jackson developed the policy after Janice Langbehn, pictured, accused a Jackson Memorial Hospital worker of not letting her visit her dying partner, Lisa Pond, in 2007.

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Jackson Health System news release:

Jackson Completes Collaborative Effort with LGBT Community to Refine Health System Policies

MIAMI, FL Officials from Jackson Health System (JHS) and a coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations and individual community activists are pleased to announce a successful completion to a collaborative effort to make JHS hospital policies more inclusive of the needs of the LGBT community.

This announcement follows a year-long process to review and enhance policies and training materials for all JHS hospitals and facilities to ensure that they reflect emerging standards of care for LGBT patients. This process was initiated after a meeting held on May 29, 2009, between JHS leadership and representatives of the coalition of LGBT organizations. As part of that meeting, JHS agreed to convene a task force of health system officials and employees to review and revise its policies internally.

Once draft revisions of those policies were prepared, the updated policies were distributed to organizations participating in the effort for input and suggestions. After a review led by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the LGBT organizations involved in the effort were able to confirm that the policies had satisfied the requests made to JHS in 2009.

In addition, Jackson Health System took part in the 2010 Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) survey project, a joint project of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which rates healthcare facilities on their policies and practices related to the LGBT community. The HEI focuses on five main policy criteria: patient non-discrimination, visitation, decision making, cultural competency training, and employment policies and benefits. By participating in the survey, it is the goal of Jackson Health System to demonstrate its long-standing commitment to equality for LGBT patient care. Information from the 2010 HEI survey will be released in May 2010.

JHS leadership and officials from the LGBT organizations involved in the effort were very pleased to be able to work together to advance LGBT sensitivity and inclusivity in JHS policies. All parties involved agreed that providing equal treatment and care for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, or other aspects of personal identity, is of paramount importance in healthcare settings. It creates an environment in which all patients feel safe and comfortable receiving treatment, which results in a higher quality of patient care.

On April 9, 2010, officials from JHS and representatives from the coalition of LGBT organizations met to discuss the new policies that have been adopted, as well as additional collaborative activities that could further address the healthcare needs of the LGBT community in South Florida.

The LGBT organizations working with Jackson Health System on this effort included the Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth, CenterLink, Equality Florida, Florida Together, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Lambda Legal, Miami Workers' Center, Out with Cancer, Pride Center at Equality Park, SAVE Dade, and the Transgender Equality Rights Initiative.

SAVE Dade news release:

SAVE Dade & coalition helps redefine visitation policies to be LGBT inclusive

SAVE Dade and coalition partners are pleased to announce Jackson Health System's (JHS) implementation of fair visitation policies that advance equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their families.

The Committee for Fair Visitation formed as a result of an incident involving Lisa Pond who was admitted to Jackson Memorial, and whose children and partner of 18 years, Janice Langbehn, were denied visitation. The unfair incident resulted in Lambda Legal representing the Langbehn family in Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial.

The Committee was formed to facilitate JHS adopt fair visitation policies and enter into the Human Rights Campaign's Healthcare Equality Index (HEI).

JHS has made important changes to its visitation policy, including a new and broader definition of family stating:

"The terms 'family' and 'family member' in all policies at the Jackson Health System are understood and interpreted to mean any person(s) who play a significant role in an individual's life. This may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual. Members of 'family' include spouses, domestic partners, and both different-sex and same-sex significant others. 'Family' includes a minor patient's parents, regardless of the gender of either parent. Solely for the purposes of visitation policy, the concept of parenthood is to be liberally construed without limitation as encompassing legal parents, foster parents, same-sex parent, step-parents, those serving in loco parentis (Latin word meaning 'in place of parents or instead of a parent.' Normally those who have been a custodian of children or who been foster parents are given such privileges), and other persons operating in caretaker roles."

The change in policy signifies that JHS is taking the necessary steps to implement clear and inclusive visitation policies to encompass the needs of the LGBT community. Additionally, JHS entered into the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) and is the only health system in Florida to apply.

While this is a positive step for the LGBT community in South Florida, the work to implement fair visitation policies throughout the rest of South Florida and across the state is far from over. SAVE Dade is hopeful that JHS is the first of many Florida hospitals to implement fair visitation policies, however, help is needed to implement such change. The Committee for Fair Visitation is committed to continuing this change.

If you are interested in helping to change the visitation policies at hospitals throughout South Florida to include the LGBT community, please contact savedade@savedade.org. We are searching for committee members who would begin the process at local area hospitals and commit to helping each institution to adopt similar policies.

Special thanks to The Fair Visitation Committee:
Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth, CenterLink, Comprehensive Money Management Services, LLC Equality Florida, Florida Together, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Lambda Legal, Miami Workers' Center, Out with Cancer, Pride Center at Equality Park, SAVE Dade, Transgender Equality Rights Initiative

News release from Equality Florida:

Jackson Memorial Hospital Revises Policies to Respect LGBT Families

"It gives me and my family some comfort to know that by sharing our story we have helped to change Jackson's policies for the better."- Janice Langbehn

In a move that sets a new standard for Florida hospitals, Jackson Memorial Hospital has adopted a comprehensive set policies and procedures that respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families. Equality Florida applauds Jackson's new policies and we're working hard to ensure that hospitals across the state meet or exceed this new standard.

Last year Equality Florida helped form the Committee for Fair Visitation, a coalition of more than a dozen local, state and national organizations working to ensure our families are respected and protected at the most vulnerable times in our lives. Our committee formed in the wake of charges that Jackson had refused, for eight hours, to provide Janice Langbehn access to her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond. Lisa slipped into a coma and died. Last September, the court rejected a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal on Janice's behalf ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see Lisa.

The Committee for Fair Visitation continued a dialogue with the hospital for over a year. It was clear from the start that senior officials, including Jackson's CEO, Dr. Eneida Roldan, were sincere in their commitment to a thorough review of Jackson's policies and to ensuring that those policies treated LGBT families with respect and support. Staff and administrative leaders have worked closely with the LGBT community to upgrade hospital policies and training procedures with the goal of making Jackson a model for how hospitals should treat gay and transgender families and patients.

The important improvements at Jackson include:

  • a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression;
  • a patient's bill of rights that demonstrates the hospital's commitment to providing quality care for LGBT patients;
  • and a visitation policy that updates the definition of family to include same-sex partners and other people who may not be legally related to a patient.

Equality Florida sends our heartfelt thanks to Janice Langbehn and her children for their tremendous courage in sharing their story. Their willingness to speak up sparked the conversations that have changed the policies at Jackson Memorial. When I spoke to Janice earlier she said she was glad some good had come from tragedy.

"It gives me and my family some comfort to know that by sharing our story we have helped to change Jackson's polices for the better," Janice said today.

These are crucial changes. What Janice Langbehn experienced represents the greatest fears of gay couples. No one should ever enter a hospital worrying that they will be barred from their loved one's bedside because the person behind the desk refuses to recognize your family, and with these new policies, Jackson has set a very high standard for valuing all families including LGBT families. We hope other hospitals across Florida and our state legislature will move quickly to join Jackson in creating these vital protections.

Equality Florida would like to extend our deep appreciation to all who participate in the Committee for Fair Visitation and especially Lambda Legal and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) for their strong leadership through this highly productive process.

Sincerely,
Stratton Pollitzer
Deputy Director, Equality Florida

Members of the Committee for Fair Visitation include: Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth, CenterLink, Comprehensive Money Management Services, LLC, Equality Florida, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Lambda Legal, Miami Workers' Center, Out with Cancer, Pride Center at Equality Park, SAVE Dade, and Transgender Equality Rights Initiative.

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Jackson should be commended. It changed the language in its policies to make everyone feel more welcome. This is exactly what a hospital should do. But it is incorrect to suggest that Jackson ever had policies that limited visitation by same sex partners - it had no such policies.

This hospital is already the worst in Dade county and they show why again with this policy of encouraging "homosexual" sex acts among patients. No longer will it be safe for children or families to go to Jackson because of the potential to be exposed to these sex acts.

Are you serious, Fred? Jackson is only doing what other hospitals around the country currently do...allow family members to see their loved ones in the hospital. Drop the homophobic rhetoric...it may be a gay doctor or nurse that cares for you at your next visit. Wow.

Kudos to JHS for making this change and officially recognizing the rights of all. This move shows egality, understanding, and compassion, and elevates the hospital system and, by extension, Miami as a whole, closer to a world class society. Well done.

Good. Now the hospital needs to apologize to Janice Langbehn for how they treated her and her family. They still have not done this.

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