Lesbian Couple Denied Visitation and Consultation At California Hospital

Jim Burroway

June 15th, 2009

That’s right. Hospitals denying same-sex couples visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions for each other can happen even in California.:

[Kristin] Orbin and her partner of 3½ years, Teresa Rowe, 30, who live in Northern California,  were in Fresno for Meet in the Middle 4 Equality, an event protesting the California Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Proposition 8.

After marching 14 miles in Central Valley heat, Orbin (who is epileptic) collapsed and suffered three grand mal seizures.  A doctor at a first aid center had difficulty finding her pulse, so he called 911.

Orbin said the discrimination started as soon as the paramedics arrived.

“By that time, I was going in and out of consciousness.  The paramedics wanted nothing to do with Teresa and she had to practically fight them to be allowed to ride in the ambulance.  I remember one of them was very nice and agreed to let her ride with me in the back.  Once we got to the hospital, they wheeled me into a hallway and left me, refusing to allow Teresa to be with me.”

The problem with the hospital started when the paramedic informed the emergency room nurse on duty that Kristin was a Meet in the Middle marcher. The nurse didn’t like that.

Fresno Community Hospital and Medical Center refused to accept Kirstin’s medical cards from Teresa, and they refused Teresa’s offer to have their medical advance directives and power of attorney faxed to them. The even refused to accept Teresa’s warning that Kirstin suffered massive migraines if she were given the benzodiazapine Ativan, which they tried to give Kirsten when she woke up. Kirstin was finally able to join Teresa when a doctor arrived a few hours later.

I had hesitated in posting about this when the story appeared because there was only one news source for it. But now that the American Civil Liberties Union has investigated and found that there is considerable merit to the allegations. In fact, because Kirstin has epilepsy, trips to the hospital is fairly normal. In a statement from the ACLU, Teresa said:

“Unfortunately, because Kristin suffers from epilepsy, trips to the hospital are pretty common for us, which is why we filled out the legal paper work to make sure I would be able to be with her and make emergency decisions about her care. But the hospital wouldn\’t let me see Kristen and ignored my advice about her treatment. They ended up giving her the exact medication I repeatedly asked them not to give her.”

The ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sent a joint letter (PDF: 624 KB/5 pages) to the hospital today urging that it adopt policy changes with regard to same-sex relationships. It cites California’s Unrih Civil Rights Act, which provides that “no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accomodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services…” The letter requires Fresno Community Hospital to take the following steps before June 22, 2009:

  1. Adopt a comprehensive visitaiton policy that:
    • Affirms all patients’ rights to have visitors, explicitly including same-sex partners and their children;
    • Outlines a clear process for determining when visitors will be restricted and how that decision will be communicated; and
    • Includes a grievance procedure in the case of visitation denial that can be acted on quickly in an emergency situation.
  2. Ensure that yur hospitals’ non-discrimination policy explicitly describes LGBT individuals as a protected group;
  3. Ensure that your patients’ bill of rights explicitly describes the rights of LGBT patients;
  4. Provide LGBT healthcare training to the Emergency Department staff at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno; and
  5. Participate inthe 2009 Healthcare Equality Index, an annual survey of healthcare industry policies and practices related to LGBT individuals and families.

Lindoro Almaviva

June 15th, 2009

And this is the reason why I believe in litigation and kicking ass when stuff like this happens. This is also the reason why I believe that we can not back down our litigation for marriage equality until we get it.


June 15th, 2009

They can’t even get “separate but equal” right anymore…

Richard W. Fitch

June 15th, 2009

And it is not just a case of “separate but equal”. I am certain this couple had a significant set of legal expenses to have their paperwork drawn up and notarized, etc; expenses that a married man and woman never have to invest. I’m not sure of all the details, but the adult child of a patient has more rights than were given to this couple. This is a shining example of why clear legislation of LGBT rights can not be dismissed by the anti-SSM antagonists as unnecessary. There are too many stories already where established policies are flagrantly disregarded.


June 15th, 2009

The nurses obviously had to choose between their job and their faith.


June 15th, 2009

I would seriously love to hear what Prop 8 supporters think about this.


June 16th, 2009

Alex, it would make a good point to put in an ad next time a ballot measure comes around, maybe as a not-so-funny parody of the “Gathering Storm” ad.

Anyway, I refuse to believe that the nurses and paramedics didn’t know what they were doing. Considering it was Central California, I’m willing to bet they discriminated against these women on purpose. And they felt obligated to do it because it’s “what they believe.”
Well, screw them and their “faith.”

It’s funny that the same arguments that these people used against us (“special rights,” “they should keep it to themselves,” “they’re shoving their lifestyle down our throats”) could reasonably be used against them.

Timothy Kincaid

June 16th, 2009

The couple are not legal domestic partners, but Rowe has the legal authority to make medical decisions for Orbin, as well as power of attorney.

Perhaps they would have a stronger complaint had they opted to be legal domestic partners.

As it is, I can understand the confusion of the hospital. I wonder if they might have had the same treatment had a man tried to present papers for his girlfriend.

It’s still likely discrimination, but perhaps less aggregious than if their relationship was legally protected.


June 16th, 2009

So a health care provider I’ve paid for with my insurance and cash, can and might, based on their religious beliefs, let me die?

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