The rebuff reverberated across the country, all the way to the White House and back to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where it was first meted out. In 2007, Janice Langbehn was denied the right to see her partner, Lisa Pond, who lay dying of a brain aneurysm at Jackson. A social worker told Ms. Langbehn, of Washington state, that she couldn’t see Ms. Pond because Florida was “an anti-gay state.”
It was a cruel slap to a woman in grief. But Jackson, too, felt the sting.
This week, five years later, Jackson Health System was one of 71 organizations in the country named a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The group ranked Jackson for its handling of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients and their families in the areas of patient and employment nondiscrimination, visitation and staff training.
Jackson has every right to be proud of its turnaround, made more remarkable because the Human Rights Campaign first gave Jackson this recognition in 2010, three years after the incident. However, JHS is one of only three healthcare groups in the state to be named a leader in healthcare equality. Clearly, many other institutions are lagging. They should incorporate the lessons that Jackson learned the hard way.
Ms. Langbehn, Ms. Pond and their children, were in Miami to embark on a Caribbean cruise for gay families. Ms. Langbehn collapsed from a brain aneurysm just before they were to set sail. She died the next day. Ms. Langbehn was finally allowed to see Ms. Pond in the company of a priest performing last rites.
But the stage had been set for change. Ms. Langbehn made her voice heard long and strong. Her unconscionable treatment became a lightning rod for the crusade for gay patients’ rights.
In January 2011, Langbehn’s cause led to new federal rules banning any restrictions on visitation based on sexual orientation in hospitals across the country. The rules apply to all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds, more than 90 percent of the hospitals in the country. President Obama personally called Ms. Langbehn to give her the news.
But to its credit, Jackson didn’t wait for a federal directive. It instituted better diversity training and policies that say that everyone is welcome and everyone will be treated fairly. That’s the right message for the “people’s hospital” to convey.