Scroll down to read President Obama’s directive and Jackson Health System’s letter to the White House.
BY STEVE ROTHAUS and FRED TASKER, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Janice Langbehn, who unsuccessfully sued the hospital after the 2007 sudden death of partner Lisa Pond, says she's still waiting for an apology from Jackson -- which just last week changed its definition of "family'' to include gay and lesbian couples.
"For the president to apologize for their behavior, and them not wanting to -- I just don't know why Jackson Memorial won't do the right thing," Langbehn said Friday by phone from her home in Lacey, Wa. "How hard can a face-to-face apology be? The lawsuit is over and they've change their policies. Step up and do the right thing."
Jackson will not apologize, said Ric Cuming, vice president and chief administrative officer at Jackson South Community Hospital.
"We didn't prevent her from being with her partner because of her sexual orientation," said Cuming, who previously was chief nursing officer at Jackson Memorial Hospital's main campus. "I'm personally very sorry for her and her children's loss, but the hospital has always had the position that we did not discriminate against them."
The case began Feb. 18, 2007, when Pond suffered a fatal brain aneurysm shortly before she and Langbehn were to sail with their three children on a Caribbean cruise for gay families.
Langbehn maintains that a hospital social worker would not let her visit Pond because Florida is "an anti-gay state." Pond, 39, died the next day.
From the beginning, Jackson said Langbehn was not discriminated against and defended social worker Garnett Frederick, who denied making the comment.
Langbehn sued the hospital. The case, which received publicity around the country, was dismissed without a decision whether Langbehn was discriminated against. The court determined Jackson had no legal obligation to allow anyone to visit a patient.
Visitation usually is determined by a patient's condition, Cuming said.
"In an open intensive care unit, we might have lots of visitors," he said. "If a patient has a sudden cardiac arrest and needs to be resuscitated, we'd move all the visitors out."
Until the Langbehn-Pond case, Jackson had no "clearly defined visitation practices," Cuming said.
"We didn't have tight descriptors about who could and who couldn't visit because we didn't need it," he said.
On Thursday night while Obama was fundraising in Miami, the White House quietly announced that hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments will be required to let gay and lesbian partners have the same visiting rights as heterosexuals. Also, partners will be allowed to help gay patients make critical health decisions.
"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides -- whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay," Obama said in a directive on Thursday to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
"Uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated," the president directed.
Obama gave the Health and Human Services Department 180 days to respond.
Reaction among activists is divided.
"Family Research Council has no objection to any individuals conferring a health care proxy or power of attorney on whomever they wish," said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
"However, in the context of the same-sex "marriage'' debate, the "hospital visitation'' issue is a complete red herring," Sprigg said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. "The idea that homosexuals are routinely denied the opportunity to visit their partners in the hospital is false. Most hospitals have no restrictions on visitors at all."
Jim Beaudreau, education and policy director for the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association based in San Francisco, said his group is "absolutely thrilled'' about Obama's announcement.
"This is a really big deal about an issue most people are totally in support of. I can't imagine that many Americans would disagree that if you are gay or lesbian and in the hospital, that having your loved ones near you is a bad thing."
For nearly a year, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association and a coalition of other gay organizations worked with Jackson to update its visitation policies.
Florida has a statewide "Patient's Bill of Rights'' that does not address visitation. Two years ago, Florida voters passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage and domestic partnerships.
“It's important for people to realize that they still need to sign an advance directive to keep their rights. Now it will be clear that advance directives have to be honored," said Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, who specializes in alternative-family law.
Even under the new proposed rules, she said, if a patient has no advance directive, his or her partner will be far down the line for making medical decisions.
Florida law states that "a close friend of the patient'' has the right to decide following court-appointed guardians, adult children, parents, siblings and other relatives.
Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.