President Obama in April issued a call for equal hospital visitation rights for all patients, a move he said would be beneficial especially to childless widows and widowers and to gays and lesbians.
Mr. Obama's memorandum will require the Department of Health and Human Services to create new rules for hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to make it clear that a patient's designated visitor has the same visitation rights as a family member. Hospitals will not be able to deny visitation privileges based on “race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
Visits can be restricted for medically appropriate reasons. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be charged with enforcing the new regulations, and with ensuring that patients' advance directives are respected.
For patients whose friends or partners are denied visitation rights, President Obama said in a statement, “the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences,” including that physicians and nurses may not have current information about medications and medical histories.
“All too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall,” he added.
The Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy group for gays and lesbians, said that it had worked with the White House and HHS “in support” of the memorandum.
“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement.
In a statement issued in the wake of the memorandum, the American Hospital Association said “we recognize how important family support is to a patient's well-being, and we work hard to involve patients and their loved ones in their care.” The organization added that it “will look forward to details of the new regulations as well as direction on coordinating with state laws.”