I grew up in Fresno, CA, which has been in the news quite often lately because of its high percentage of yes on 8 votes. To bring even more visibility to the issue in California, Equality California hosted a big she-bang called Meet in the Middle in Fresno, the Saturday after the CA Supreme Court denied overturning prop 8.
Today, Fresno is back in the news with an unsettling story of a lesbian couple denied visitation and consultation in a Fresno hospital. The hopital where I was born. Box Turtle Bulletin shared the story:
By Jim Burroway
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. They 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 to the hospital today urging that it adopt policy changes with regard to same-sex relationships. It cites California’s Unruh 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 your 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 in the 2009 Healthcare Equality Index, an annual survey of healthcare industry policies and practices related to LGBT individuals and families.
Last week I printed out health care proxies/directives for B and I to fill out. We know it's important - very important. But, they are still sitting at home, blank. This story makes me want to run home and fill them out RIGHT NOW. This story makes me so angry and so scared and causes me to reflect on the situation in this country. Yes, we are much further forward in our civil rights battle than we were yesterday, but I could end up in a hospital tomorrow without B by my side. That scares me. I also know that this story is a tame version of events that have happened across this country. That scares me. I also know that my little pieces of paper appointing B as my healthcare agent are oftentimes no match for the bigotry of people. That scares me.
For more info on the ACLU case, click here. I especially like the demand letter sent to the hospital.
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