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Obama apologizes to lesbian prevented from seeing partner at Jackson Memorial Hospital

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

langbehnFrom a runway at Miami International Airport, President Barack Obama apologized by phone Thursday night to a lesbian prevented from seeing her dying partner at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

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.


Jackson Health System Letter to President Obama on Visitation Rights


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The ink is barely dry on the Socialist Health Care Takeover bill and we are already see the impact. King Obama issues an "executive order" and it's the law ... without debate or vote in Congress. Welcome to the U.S.S.R. of America.

Gary Let me assure you that any time your ready to leave our country ,feel free to bail. When you get to the USSR you can remove the tea bags from your ears.

I agree with Zip, FYI I am straight.

This guy just got finished trying to destroy our medical system and now he wants to turn our hospitals into havens for perverts to perform their sex acts in public. This is a disgrace and will now make our public hospitals unsafe for children and families who now have to fear coming across one of these sex acts when they are trying to get help or visiting family in a hospital.

Fred and Gary: your paranoid and hysterical delusions are irrelevant. Stay on Pluto.

Fred .. your comment is destructive and ignorant to say the least. It's that kind of thinking (putting it lightly) that needs to be removed from this earth, inorder to have freedom and kindness expressed to our youth. Allow them the chance to grow and accept without hate and judging others, based on lifestyle. Every walk of life .. lawyers, teachers, medical - individuals touch lives every single minute of a day. You do not wear a robe and sandals .. so, do not judge on this earth with such disgrace.
Move wherever you feel 'safe' and leave the good life to those who care to make a difference!!

Just what hospitals need when they are already in financial trouble also is another costly regulation to deal with. Now they have to investigate who various people's sex partners have been so that they are all allowed into the hospital for sex acts with them.

Trust me, Fred, this is a big victory for Gay Community in the U.S of A.. Unfortunately, there aren't any Chris Crains over here in Italy, yet. As a matter of fact, when I tell students about Gay Rights movement (among other movements) in the U.S., I could tell how unapologetically relieved they are that it doesn't exist in their country. Food for thought:-)

OMG Fred, you must be either a comedic genius or the epitome of human ignorance!

As a comedic genius: I love how you portray the ability of a dying person being able to see their significant other before they pass. I mean, who makes this stuff up? Only a GENIUS who thinks that at that stage they still want to get it on. Fred, is there a little "randy" in you? You must be a horny devil to come up with that stuff. Oh, and about hospitals becoming a haven for gay sex, that's just hilarious!

As the epitome of human ignorance: You are so fearful of anything or anyone that is not like you that you resort to stereotypes and disdain. It's okay if you don't like gay people, but to blatantly create ridiculous stories out of fear is another. Gays are average people that simply like to play with others that have the same toy in their pants. It's not a big deal.

Much ado about nothing. This lady wasn't singled out because she was gay. All she wanted to do was cash in, like a greedy grave robber. She should hang her head in shame for trying to make money on the tragic death of someone she supposedly cared about.

Why does the Herald think it is okay for Steve Rothaus, a self-proclaimed gay rights activist, to report on gay news topics for the paper? Isn't that a conflict of interest? Shouldn't a newspaper demand a neutral point of view from its reporters?

all she wanted to do is see her friend b4 she did...why did'nt they let her see her friend...gay or not..it's not right...good for you obama...sticking up for the little person...

This is total bullcrap. Never happened at Jackson and almost nowhere else. Truth is simply that closeted gays and lesbians do not want their lovers to be seen at the hospital so their family finds out about them. Otherwise hospitals do not give a crap who visits anyone. Obama watches too much Oprey Winfraught or Dr. Philistine.

Fred, you are hilarious--and watching way too many Naughty Nurse Nancy videos. How many times do children and families come across straight people having sex in hospitals? I know when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery, my only thought was of sex. (Actually, I was barely conscious and a little nauseous from the pain killers.)

Kowman: these weren't closeted lesbians, they had 3 children and were going on a gay cruise. They weren't trying to hide anything from their families.


In this day and age it's sad that this has to be 'news', even sadder that such ignorance still exists in our society. Especially here is South Florida where we take such pride in our diversity. I am a married, heterosexual woman, mother and business owner, and on behalf of Jackson and all of South Florida, my apologies go out to Janice and her family. Gay rights and Human rights are synonymous. Can't we all grow up and start using our heads and our hearts?

The Herald keeps falling to new lows in its decency levels. Now they have a pervert column and a pervert regularly writing stories in this paper. That is why fewer and fewer people read this paper that I wouldn't even use to line my bird cage. Who can risk having a paper delivered to their home that discusses things such as hospitals admitting sex partners to do who knows what type of activities in a public hospital.

is it possible, just a little bit that Jackson did absolutely nothing wrong? Could the decision not to allow visitation have been made due to the medical condition of the patient? It would be very easy and convenient for Jackson to say, "yes we are sorry, we have learned from this and changed our policy" but they have not, they stand by the fact that they did nothing wrong, they support their employees ( something of a rarity) and still have changed their policy.As an FYI, I am a male, straight and have become very tolerant. However I do find it obnoxious when an opposing point of view is ridiculed and lambasted. Gays and lesbians know better then anyone, but truth be told, if you are brought up being told that behavior is wrong, it is not going to change someones thinking over night.

If this woman was telling the truth, she would have won her lawsuit. She was not denied visitation. The matter was litigated and JMH prevailed in court.

Although she lost the case on a technicality the Judge slammed the Hospital in his order and stated:

“The defendants’ lack of sensitivity and attention to Ms. Langbehn, Ms. Pond and their children caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability,” the judge wrote. The hospital, he continued, “exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center; unfortunately, no relief is available for these failures.”

ZIP, EXCELLENT Response to the racist tea bagger moron Gary.

Denying that this happens routinely to LGBT families is like denying the holocaust. What is MORE true than closeted couples denying each other is bigoted families estranged from a GLBT person for years swooping in an taking over medical decision-making for the ill, pushing out the same-sex partner physically, legally, etc. I read about a similar case of this happening with an elderly gay couple in CA just last night. After one had a fall, they were sequestered in separate nursing homes, not allowed to see each other. Reps of the nursing home sold their home & assets and divided everything, all without their consent. All they have is a photo album of their life together. I hope the perpetrators burn in hell for eternity.

So basically, they put a gay man in as a vice president and CAO to apease the gay community and make it "seem" like the hospital is gay friendly. I wonder how Mr. Cuming feels about being used as a poster boy? The President of the United States apologizes and the hospital is still too arrogant to admit they made a mistake. They should be ashamed of themselves and if Mr. Cuming had any ethics he would have resigned in protest. I guess some people can adjust their morals for a six figure paycheck. The whole organization should be ashamed.

"Why does the Herald think it is okay for Steve Rothaus, a self-proclaimed gay rights activist, to report on gay news topics for the paper? Isn't that a conflict of interest?"

Sounds great Diggy. I agree with you.

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