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Hospital changes policy after refusing to let lesbian to visit her dying partner

MIAMI – Jackson Memorial Hospital may be ranked among “America’s Best Hospitals,” but it has a spotty track record in dealing with LGBT issues.

While a lesbian was dying in the hospital, hospital officials denied her partner visitation rights. The decision drew rebuke from gay rights advocates and others concerned about the hospital’s visitation policy.

Today, Lambda Legal, its coalition partners, and officials from Jackson Health System (JHS) released a statement announcing the hospital's improved policies that are more responsive to the needs of the LGBT community. Lamba Legal noted that the new policies still do not provide as much protection as may be needed in critical situations.

Lambda Legal urged Jackson Memorial Hospital to enact a full grievance procedure and also to issue an apology to the Langbehn-Pond family.

"Lambda Legal applauds Jackson Memorial's work with the coalition to review and expand policies and training materials to help address the needs of same-sex couples and their families, but we urge the hospital to finish the job," said Beth Littrell, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, who was lead counsel on Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial.

"The hospital should issue an official apology to the Langbehn-Pond family and JHS should have a grievance procedure in the case of visitation denial that can be acted on quickly in an emergency situation,” she said.

"Jackson Memorial Hospital should have been able to provide immediate resources to Janice Langbehn when she wasn't allowed to be with her partner Lisa hour after hour as she lay dying in the hospital. We don't want the Langbehn-Pond nightmare to happen to another family."

Last September, the court rejected Lambda Legal's lawsuit filed against Jackson Memorial Hospital on behalf of Janice Langbehn, ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see her partner, Lisa Pond. Langbehn and the children were kept apart from Pond by hospital staff for eight hours as Pond slipped into a coma and died.

Since then, Lambda Legal has been working with other LGBT organizations and hospital officials to address the policies that leave many same-sex couples and their families vulnerable during critical times.

After a year of reviewing JHS policies, the LGBT coalition recommended several policy changes that the hospital adopted. The hospital developed and implemented a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, a patient's bill of rights that demonstrates the hospital's commitment to providing quality care for LGBT patients, and a visitation policy that updates the definition of family to include same-sex partners and other people who may not be legally related to a patient. JHS does not have a complete grievance procedure to ensure compliance with the policy in cases of emergency.