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Tenn. Hospital Apologizes for Discriminating Against Lesbian Couple

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Dec 22, 2011
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Rolling Hills Hospital in Franklin, Tenn., recently refused a lesbian woman the right to visit her partner, reported the Tennessean in a Dec. 21 article.

Franklin is located about 20 miles south of downtown Nashville.

The psychiatric hospital went against new federal anti-discrimination laws when Val Burke was not allowed to visit her partner who was in facility’s residential unit. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created the rules, which include equal visitation and representation rights, in September.

"It was human error," said Richard Bangert, chief executive officer of Rolling Hills. "They made a mistake. 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."

Bangert plans to apologize to Burke.

"I will apologize and work with her directly," he said. "I take it very personally. This is not representative of the hospital."

To avoid similar incidents from happening the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s biggest LGBT civil rights organization, told hospitals to ensure that they review their visitation policies. The HRC and Tennessee Equality also issued a joint statement about the incident.

"Denying a loving partner the right to be with his or her sick loved one shows the very personal side of anti-LGBT discrimination," said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project.

"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.

In 2009, EDGE reported of an incident when a court threw out a suit by a lesbian who was allegedly denied the right to visit her partner who was dying.

Janice Langbehn and her partner of 17 years Lisa Marie Pond, and their children were on vacation in Florida when Pond suddenly collapsed from a heart attack or an aneurysm.

The couple was allegedly separated for eight hours by the staff at Jackson Memorial Hospital, but the hospital claims it was following policy. Their policy stated that only immediate family and spouses could visit patients -- not life partners that were not married in Florida. Langbehn was finally allowed to see Pond as she received final rites.

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