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FL: Fed court dismisses lawsuit of woman kept apart from dying partner by hospital

“[Miami] is an anti-gay city in an anti-gay state.”
— Jackson Memorial Hospital official to Janice Langbehn, who was not allowed to see her dying partner. And the court agreed.

In the home state of Charlie Crist, where the law does little for the Sunshine State’s LGBT residents, a horrific court rejection that only highlights the extent to which gay and lesbian couples are treated in the most inhumane way –one that heterosexual couples will never experience — during their most vulnerable moments. The case is Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital. (Lambda Legal):

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida today rejected Lambda Legal’s lawsuit filed against Jackson Memorial Hospital on behalf of Janice Langbehn, the Estate of Lisa Pond and their three adopted children who were kept apart by hospital staff for eight hours as Lisa slipped into a coma and died.

The court’s decision paints a tragically stark picture of how vulnerable same-sex couples and their families really are during times of crisis,” said Beth Littrell, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. “We hope that because of Janice’s courage to seek justice for her family in this case that more people better understand the costs of antigay discrimination. This should never happen to anyone.”

While on a family cruise leaving from Miami, Lisa Pond, a healthy 39 year-old, suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital with her partner Janice and three children following close behind. There, the hospital refused to accept information from Janice about her partner’s medical history. Janice was informed that she was in an antigay city and state, and she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as Lisa’s partner or family.

A doctor finally spoke with Janice telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Other than one five minute visit that was arranged by a Catholic priest at Janice’s request to perform last rites, and despite the doctor’s acknowledgement that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Janice – who provided the hospital with a medical Power of Attorney document – nor their children were allowed to see Lisa until nearly eight hours after their arrival. Soon after Lisa’s death, Janice tried to get her death certificate in order to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for their children. She was denied both by the State of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner.

Today’s ruling comes after the Public Health Trust of the Miami Dade County, the governing body of Jackson Memorial Hospital, filed a motion to dismiss the case. The court ruled that the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit. The court has given the Langbehn-Pond family until October 16 to review the ruling and consider all legal options.

You see that – even though the hospital was presented with a legal document giving her medical POA, she could neither see her dying partner nor obtain a flipping death certificate!? This is sick on so many levels. The issue here is that even with the right legal documentation, once the battle in the hospital begins between homophobic officials and the partner, time wasted on trying to obtain basic rights you are entitled to allows the patient’s life to fritter away over this bullsh*t. If the doctor said there was no medical reason for her not to see her partner, then that should have been the end of it.

Janice Langbehn‘s reaction on her blog:

justice denied, justice delayed since hearing a little after 1pm (9.29.09) my time today that Judge Jordan (Federal Judge in Florida) sided with the hospital (Jackson Memorial Hospital – Ryder Trauma Center)

my world has crumbled, my heart was stabbed just like watching Lisa collapsing all over again on the Rfamily cruise on 2/18/07

words of encouragement have poured in from friends, family and others to say “hang in there – the fight is just starting”.

and then our son David – saying “mom that’s messed up – if we were here in Group Health we could have been with other mom but because we were in Florida we couldn’t –  how is that fair – shouldn’t the laws me the same in all the states” he is only 14 and has some learning delays – what does that say about our society, our laws, and how we wrong others every day if my 14 year old son can see it’s “not fair”

I honestly don’t know how I pick myself up and put on a brave face for public speaking that has always been very trying and hard for me even before this decision – now it will be augmented with an asterisk that says but she failed in court

I know there are people who disagreed that I should never have filed the lawsuit to begin with, that to let the dead lay in rest. I couldn’t – I never could – I always picked at those wounds on my arms or face hoping for a different outcome. Speaking out about the inequality we faced was no difference.

This is tragic, enraging and disgusting because there was no reason for this to happen. Florida needs to stop this rank discrimination — and it doesn’t even have to do it by affirming gay families, btw. At least in NC, the law on the books is that a patient can designate anyone to be their primary point of contact. Of course if the patient is not conscious, then you do have to rely on legal paperwork. However, I’ve never experienced any problems here, in fact it’s been the opposite, neither of us have ever been asked for documentation or questioned at all. I will say that hospitals need to update all of their forms to allow a box for “partner” or “significant other.”

The cruelty could be resolved by the state’s legislature changing the law — is there any chance this will happen?

Hat tip, Donica.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding