Wednesday, December 16, 2009

LGBT Patients' Rights at Fresno Hospital.

One fantastic little victory! From eNews Park Forest, a story of how it took a threatened law suit for one hospital to establish equal rights for LGBT patients. Now if only the ACLU and NCLR could find others to come out about discrimination at other hospitals.

The only way it seems that patients' rights can be established is often via lawsuits, which can be an enormous burden on the privacy and challenge patients face. This great news story emphasizes for us how discriminating routine care is, and how vulnerable women, gays and elder patients are when they don't have civil rights organizations at their back.

December 16, 2009. Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno has agreed to make policy changes and conduct staff trainings to ensure that the rights of its LGBT patients and family members are properly respected. The changes are in response to a demand letter by American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of a lesbian who was barred from visiting her partner and giving advice about her treatment at the hospital.

“We are very pleased that Community Regional is taking seriously its obligations to respect the rights of its LGBT patients and family members,” said Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “While it’s unfortunate that a couple had to suffer in order to make the hospital take notice, it’s commendable that Community Medical is taking such important steps to ensure that this kind of mistreatment doesn’t happen again.”

On May 29, 2009, Kristin Orbin was rushed to the emergency room after suffering from an epileptic seizure. She and her partner of four years, Teresa Rowe, had traveled from the Bay Area to Fresno to attend a rally in support of marriage for same-sex couples. Although Rowe, who grew up in nearby Clovis, California, was well aware of Orbin’s medical history and how she responded to various medications, hospital staff refused to allow her to speak with the doctors treating Orbin or to visit with her. As a result, Orbin was given the drug Ativan that she didn’t need and which caused her unnecessary pain. After the couple had been separated for several hours, Orbin finally saw her doctor. She complained to him, and Rowe was eventually allowed to be with her.

“While an apology would have been nice, we are pleased that this incident will help put an end to unfair treatment of LGBT patients and their family members,” said Rowe. “But while the policy changes are extremely welcome and necessary, this incident has also underscored that, ultimately, allowing same-sex couples to marry is the only way to guarantee the respect and recognition that will prevent this kind of treatment.”

According to the letter Community Medical Centers sent to the ACLU and NCLR, the hospital is in the early stages of reviewing all its policies dealing with LGBT patients and foresees further changes in addition to the promised training and policy changes. It has also agreed to keep the ACLU and NCLR apprised of its progress.

“We’re very pleased that Community Medical has decided to do right by its LGBT patients,” said James Beaudreau, Education and Policy Director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). “Providing equal treatment and care for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, should be of paramount importance to any hospital. It creates an environment in which all patients feel safe and comfortable receiving treatment, which results in a higher quality of patient care.”

A copy of the demand letter and its response is available here.

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