Photo by Sun StarThis week, a new rule went into effect for hospitals across the nation to ease the longtime burden on unmarried or gay partners who, until now, could be prohibited from visiting loved ones who may lie sick and dying without a hand to hold.

The rule, first proposed in a memorandum by President Obama in April, 2010, ensures that hospitals choosing to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs must respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. Participating hospitals may no longer deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity.

New visitation regulations also will benefit childless widows or widowers who may desire the companionship of an unmarried partner or friend. They will also apply to members of religious orders (who are single and have strong relationships within their order).

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” said Mr. Obama who directed HHS Secretary Sebelius to initiate a public comment period before the regulation was finalized.

“In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.”

Patients can now designate who will receive visitation rights and also who can make medical decisions on their behalf — regardless of whether or not they are a legal spouse or blood relative.

The new Hospital Visitation Regulations went into effect January 18, 2011.

Many States had already taken steps to try to put an end to this situation. North Carolina recently amended its Patients’ Bill of Rights to give each patient “the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patient’s immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient” — a right that applies in every hospital in the State. Delaware, Nebraska, and Minnesota have adopted similar laws.

Janice Langbehn feels justice finally was served, after having been denied any chance to visit her gay partner of 17 years who lay dying.

(READ more about Janice at ABC News)


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