The chief executive officer of Rolling Hills Hospital in Franklin, Tennessee, has been forced to apologize after a “human error” led to a lesbian woman being denied visitation rights to see her partner.
Val Burke was prevented from visiting her partner, who is currently staying in the hospital’s residential facility, without another member of the woman’s family there. When the family went out of town Burke was then denied all access.
“I went to visit her at the appropriate visiting time and was turned away,” she says. “We have been living together for three years now, but that didn’t matter to them either. The rest of her family is out of town, so she didn’t have any one visit her.”
Burke had previously been allowed visitation rights, but only with her partner’s mother in attendance.
Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) contacted the facility Sunday evening and confirmed that Rolling Hills participates in Medicare and Medicaid. Hospital administration were made aware of the incident and addressed this policy with staff on Monday, according to Chris Sanders, chair of TEP’s Nashville committee.
The Obama administration issued guidelines this year on federal anti-discrimination rules making it explicit that for hospitals running Medicare and Medicaid it is a violation to deny access to a same-sex spouse or partner and that such a denial of rights can cost the hospital its federal funding.
Fortunately, this incident has seen a swift resolution. The chief executive of the hospital has apologized, saying that he has already met with staff to make it clear that this practice is unlawful and that he plans to meet with Burke personally so they can discuss the matter.
“It was human error,” said Richard “Rick” 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 said he plans to meet with Burke today.
“I will apologize and work with her directly,” he said. “I take it very personally. This is not representative of the hospital.”
The Tennessee Equality Project joined with the Human Rights Campaign in order to help support Val Burke and her right to see her partner.
Every year the HRC compiles the Healthcare Equality Index, an annual survey of healthcare policies and practices of interest to LGBT patients and their families. While the HEI is not a perfect guide — few are — it can help LGBT patients find quality healthcare with the peace of mind that they will not have to also face the added burden of prejudice and discrimination. Read more about the Healthcare Equality Index here.