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Federal Court Throws Out Suit Against Miami Hospital By Lesbian Barred From Dying Partner

Jim Burroway

September 29th, 2009
Janice Langbehn holding a photo of Lisa Pond

Janice Langbehn holding a photo of Lisa Pond

A federal court in Miami has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Janice Langbehn, a Washington state lesbian who was not allowed to visit her dying partner at Jackson Memorial Hospital in February 2007.

Lisa Pond suffered an aneurysm just before she, her partner, and three children were about to embark on a family cruise to celebrate Janice and Lisa’s eighteenth anniversary. Pond was rushed to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, but hospital personnel and social workers refused to allow Langbehn access to pond even after a power of attorney was sent to the hospital naming Langbehn. It was only because of the intervention by a Catholic priest who was called to perform last rites that Langbehn was able to spend a few minutes with Janice before she died. 

Today, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of Langbehn. According to a statement from Lambda Legal:

“The court’s decision paints a tragically stark picture of how vulnerable same-sex couples and their families really are during times of crisis,” said Beth Littrell, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “We hope that because of Janice’s courage to seek justice for her family in this case that more people better understand the costs of antigay discrimination. This should never happen to anyone.”

…The court ruled that the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit. The court has given the Langbehn-Pond family until October 16 to review the ruling and consider all legal options.

Jackson Memorial Hospital also issued a statement:

We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care. …Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care.

Janice Lanbehn and her three childrenThe phrase “everone knows they are welcome” stikes me as perhaps the most cynical statement ever made. If they’ve changed any of their policies since Lisa’s death, I can find no evidence for it. Nor can I find any hint of recongition that they’ve done anything so vile and inhumane as to deny one of their patients the company of their family in their last dying hours. Their behavior toward Janice was outrageous and beyond contemptuous, and they offered not even so much as a “sorry” afterwards.

And to those who claim that marriage doesn’t matter because other legal arrangements are good enough, take a look at Janice Langbehn and her three children. Tell them that they weren’t discriminated against. I dare you.

Comments

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Pomo
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

“The court ruled that the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit.”

That might be the case by the letter of the law but this would never happen to a straight married couple. Isn’t their legal grounds for not treating the couples equally?

Richard W. Fitch
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

In reading at TowleRoad, it appears that the ruling was based on the fact that she was in the trauma unit. There are much stricter regulations there; and, yes, it would be possible that even a parent or opposite-sex spouse would not be permitted access depending on the case.

Eddie89
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

Are you kidding me!?

If this were an opposite sex couple that was just “shacking up” with each other and one of them was at the hospital, the other could just state “that’s my wife” or “that’s my husband” and that would be it.

They would IMMEDIATELY be rushed to the side of their sick/dying spouse. No questions asked. No “let me see your marriage license”, etc. by the hospital staff.

Welcome to the life of a 2nd class citizen in the United States of America.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Obama’s proclamation on national “family” day!

Empty words, Mr. President!

Richard W. Fitch
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

Here’s the TowleRoad link . There are comments by some with legal backgrounds that give the rationale for the ruling – it may not be compassionate, but it does conform to what is on the books.

Candace
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

My partner had surgery at Memorial Hospital West (about 20 miles NW of Jackson Memorial) to remove a 9 mm kidney stone and about 6 months later, had followup surgery at Jackson to remove the stent that had been left in her kidney and ureter to facilitate passage of remaining small stones.

When she had the surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital, I wasn’t even allowed to talk to her on the phone while she was in Recovery– even though I was clearly named as her Medical Surrogate and listed on every form she filled out. I had to get her uninterested and clearly put-out anti-gay sister to call so I could even find out if she was alive or not. The hospital administrator told me “Florida isn’t a gay-friendly state” and until the hospital was forced to, it wouldn’t change it’s policy towards gay families.

Memorial West Hospital in Broward County, though, welcomed us with open arms and went out of their way to make both of us feel welcome– even when I strolled down the hall in full formal Dyke regalia. (I’m not real feminine-looking: once I wore a dress and a friend said I looked like a linebacker in drag.) But the entire staff was wonderful and kind during the entire experience.

The day after surgery to remove the huge stone Cat was so wobbly she couldn’t stand up to shower, so I took everything off and got in the shower with her and bathed her. She got out, naked and wet, the door opened and I got out naked and wet, right behind Cat, and the nurse’s eyes got as big as saucers and she just cracked up laughing. I just looked at her and said, “We weren’t…. I swear…. we…” and she fled the room, laughing all the way down the hall. When I walked by the nurse’s station later, every one of them had to put something over their face because they were laughing so hard. I had to laugh too, knowing what it looked like.

But the difference in the two hospitals was incredible. We felt nothing but hatred from one and nothing but acceptance from the other. When we left, we gave the nurses a big bouquet of flowers.

Timothy Kincaid
September 29th, 2009 | LINK

We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally

Only two possibilities, only two. Either entirely delusional or arrogantly smugly cynical. I truly hope that whoever wrote that piece of pornography they call a statement gets a glimpse at the depravity of their own soul and sees face to face the evil lurking there.

John
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

As someone who has worked in many emergency departments, including several trauma recieving centers, I am truely shocked. I had assumed all along that Jackson would settle this dog of a case and make it go away. I figured that they would care more about their reputation.

In trauma units, visitors to victims of violence are often limited, but this was a case of a spontaneous bleed without any suspicion of foul play. Even the gang bangers who get shot often get visitors in the emergency department and on the trauma service.

This ruling is unconscionable, and the behavior of Jackson Memorial is an embarassment for medical care in the US. I certainly would never choose to go to Jackson Memorial, realizing that my partner and kid might not be allowed to come and see me on my death bed.

As and ER doctor, I would never do what Jackson Memorial did to anyone or their family.

Gina9223
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

Gosh, they would never lie…

um..what if you were to say “S/Hes my sister/brother..no we don’t look alike, one of us is adopted” Kind of thing?

May as well fight a lie with a lie.

Gina9223
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

And yes, I’ve been in trauma units with both parents as patients and even as support for my step sister for a neice and a nephew and once for a military member who had no one. Just sat there, just in case…

Lonnie
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR HOMOPHOBIA! STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR THE SECOND CLASS TREATMENT OF LGBT PEOPLE! FULL CIVIL EQUALITY NOW!!!

Eric Ross
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

@Gina9223 – Saying that you are a brother or sister is not as easy as it sounds. It’s a good ideas for the LGBT community to take each other’s last names when they get married. That way it would be easier to prove your family if you showed that you had the same last name. How many married LGBT couples do you know that changed their last name?

Chris McCoy
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

My knowledge of courts is very limited. Are they allowed to appeal to the 11th Circuit, or does dismissal spell the end? What are her legal options?

Bruce Garrett
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

I truly hope that whoever wrote that piece of pornography they call a statement gets a glimpse at the depravity of their own soul and sees face to face the evil lurking there.

Consider that they’re fine with what they are. It isn’t the sex that same-sex couples have that the really hard core bigot regards with contempt…it’s that they love. What kind of person views love with contempt? The same kind of person who would deny someone their spouse’s bedside knowing full well what horrific heartbroken pain will ensue. This statement served them three purposes. First, it reassures the heterosexual community at large that there is nothing to see here…move along. Second, it spit in Langbehn’s face. Third, it spit in the gay community’s face. They’re fine with that. Seriously. They’re fine with it.

I would suggest in response, that the gay community down there begin a project to document…in as much careful detail as possible…how Jackson Memorial really treats us, as opposed to how they say they do. We have another example here from Candace. I’m pretty confidant that with a little serious legwork more examples can be found. While this ruling is still in the news, they need to be waved around, so that the community at large can begin to see the mocking face behind Jackson’s PR.

Maybe such a project could grow to a nation-wide effort. Document it. Document it. Document it.

Christopher Waldrop
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

You already suggest this in saying it “could grow into a nation-wide effort”, but I think it should go well beyond Jackson Memorial. Document treatment at other hospitals. Ask what their polices are, and if the behavior doesn’t match, ask, “Are you ignoring your own policy?”

I realize an emergency that requires hospitalization is one of the worst possible times to have to argue for your rights, and for most people it isn’t. That’s just the point, though: it isn’t for most people, and it shouldn’t be for anyone.

Candace
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

I’ve probably told that story a dozen times at Pride and had my contact information taken over and over, and have never in 5 years heard back from anyone. GLBTT people in Florida aren’t known for activism.

Audrey the Liberal
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

Sometimes I really hate my home state.

CPT_Doom
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

Here’s a suggestion that does not need activists in Florida – file complaints with the Joint Commission (www.jointcommission.org), the accrediting body for hospitals. A hospital cannot operate without Joint Commission accreditation, and they have standards on the rights of the individual. Even if state law does not cover this instance, it is very possible Joint Commission requirements do. Enough complaints might cause a review by the Joint Commission (something no hospital wants).

Kith
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

After talking to a friend who was an ER nurse this ruling while making me unhappy made sense.

Hospitals need the arbitrary right to deny access to the trauma ward. If they had to prove just cause to keep someone out they would never be able to deny access to say a hysterical mother who was preventing doctors from concentrating. In such needing to prove “cause” would slow down the process and endanger the patients life.

The issue here is of course defining “trauma ward” since it seems clear the partner was denied access far after the time in which the doctors where “Caring” for the patient and the issue of animus. It is clear the denial of access in this case was intended to cause harm and not to promote the care of the patient.

Bruce Garrett
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

Hospitals need the arbitrary right to deny access to the trauma ward.

There’s another piece to this puzzle though Kith. She had power of attorney. What kind of medical care can a hospital reasonably claim to be providing when they assert an absolute right to completely ignore your prepared legal and medical directives documents? Are those documents completely worthless then, or only worthless as they apply to same sex couples?

Furthermore, I’m told she wasn’t even allowed to get a death certificate after the fact. Does the Trauma Ward provide those?

They’re hiding behind the needs of the truma ward. Transparently so. And I’m sorry to say a jury here in Maryland probably gave hospitals all over the nation the go-ahead to use that as an excuse to discriminate. See the case of Robert Lee Daniel and Bill Robert Flanigan at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in October 2000. Another horror story, and that one comes complete with the patient being strapped to the bed and a tube being put down his throat that Daniel had been terrified of and insisted to Flanigan (who once again had power of attorney) he didn’t want done to him. Shock Trauma went ahead and did it anyway. Patient care.

Mark F.
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

“I truly hope that whoever wrote that piece of pornography they call a statement gets a glimpse at the depravity of their own soul and sees face to face the evil lurking there.”

Tim, that’s an insult to all of the fine pornographers out there! :-P

Candace
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

They’re hiding behind the needs of the truma ward. Transparently so.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

John
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

Since this wasn’t a trauma case (it was a spontaneous non-traumatic bleed in the brain), the “trauma ward” excuse would appear irrelevant at best.

Marlene
September 30th, 2009 | LINK

All I can say is I hope the NLCR can get this case accepted at the US Supreme Court. This “we’re an anti-gay state and an anti-gay city” esxcuse is bullsh1t!!!

lurker
October 1st, 2009 | LINK

Gina9223 and Eric Ross:

I assume you mean well by your suggestions – “just tell them you’re a sibling” and “LGBT people should just change their names when they get married” – but, respectfully, please do not blame LGBT people for discrimination against us.

Tell me, why should we have to lie about our primary relationships or change our own names(!) (in my opinion, an anachronistic patriarchal ownership practice) in order to expect basic human decency?

And as to the first suggestion – say you show up at the hospital with your same-sex spouse. They ask why you are there with the sick person and you tell them. They whisk her inside to the trauma unit to take care of her. An hour later it becomes clear that you are going to be treated like dog shit. And now you’re supposed to say “wait, wait, no I’m actually her SISTER, not her wife”? And that’s going to help? Denying the identity of the love of your life in her last moments? And don’t you think the bigots will just laugh in your face?

So maybe we should just assume that EVERYONE is going to treat us like sub-humans and retreat back into the closet completely?

No thanks.

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