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Tennessee

Hospital that denied visitation rights to lesbian partner rescinds decision

Thursday, December 22, 2011
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FRANKLIN, Tenn. — A Tennessee woman who was denied visitation rights with her lesbian partner at the Rolling Hills Psychiatric Hospital in Franklin has been allowed a special visit and will commence regular visits during hospital’s normal visitor’s day Sundays.

Val Burke said the staff at Rolling Hills Hospital had previously denied multiple requests by her to visit her partner, who is currently a patient in the hospital’s residential facility. Burke said that staff members excluded her from the room since she was not a legal spouse nor a family member.

“I went to visit her at the appropriate visiting time and was turned away,” she says. “We have been living together for three years now, but that didn’t matter to them either. The rest of her family is out of town, so she didn’t have any one visit her.”

Burke said she had previously been allowed visitation rights, but only with her partner’s mother in attendance.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September issued the rules for equal visitation and representation rights for LGBTQ persons.

The regulations require all hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare programs – virtually every hospital in the country – to permit patients to designate visitors of their choosing and prohibit discrimination in visitation based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Hospitals are also required to put their visitation policies in writing, including any “clinically necessary or reasonable restrictions” to visitation that may be appropriate.

Richard Bangert, chief executive officer of Rolling Hills called the visitation denial a “human error.”

“They made a mistake,” Bangert said. “When I learned of it, I immediately met with my staff on Monday. We immediately made the change in terms of making sure that our policy was very clear.”

The Human Rights Campaign and the Tennessee Equality Project called on all hospitals to review their policies and practices related to hospital visitation after the Rolling Hills incident was made public.

While noting that the incident at Rolling Hills Hospital has been resolved, both advocacy groups said that it serves as a reminder of the importance of hospital visitation rights for LGBT Americans.

“Rolling Hills Hospital fixed the problem immediately, but this serves as a reminder discrimination still exists in the health-care arena and we need to tackle it,” said Paul Guequierre, HRC spokesman.

Bangert said he plans to meet with Burke saying, “I will apologize and work with her directly,” he said. “I take it very personally. This is not representative of the hospital.”

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