Jackson Memorial Hospital scores well in treating gay patients

Three years after a lesbian complained she wasn't allowed to visit her dying partner at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the South Florida healthcare center now ranks high in how it responds to gay patients and families, according to a report released Monday by the national Human Rights Campaign.

``Healthcare that is free of prejudice is a fundamental human value, and a fundamental value Miamians share,'' HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a news release.

HRC, the nation's largest gay-rights group, has dedicated its 2010 annual Healthcare Equality Index report to Janice Langbehn and partner Lisa Pond. On Feb. 18, 2007, Pond suffered a fatal brain aneurysm shortly before they were to sail with their three children on a Caribbean cruise for gay families.

Langbehn maintains that a Jackson social worker would not let her visit Pond because Florida is ``an anti-gay state.'' Pond, 39, died the next day.

After Pond's death, Jackson became a national lightening rod for gay-patient rights.

``Janice gave focus to the work we're trying to address. As a person who experienced the horrible situation at Jackson Memorial, she became a spokesperson for change,'' said Tom Sullivan, deputy director of HRC's Family Project.

In April, the White House said hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments will be required to let gay and lesbian partners have the same visiting rights as heterosexuals. Also, partners will be allowed to help gay patients make critical health decisions.

President Barack Obama personally called Langbehn to announce the directive and gave the U.S. Health and Human Services Department 180 days to respond to it.

By the time Obama issued his directive, Jackson had already begun implementing policy changes, said Ric Cuming, vice president and chief administrative officer at Jackson South Community Hospital.

``It has allowed us to standardize policies and make our policies perhaps more contemporary, but I don't believe it changes who we are as an organization,'' Cuming said Monday. ``We've always been very welcoming and very diverse.''

HRC's latest Healthcare Equality Index is based on data submitted from 178 of the nation's largest hospitals. Eleven hospitals and Kaiser Permanente medical network received perfect scores based on patient rights, visitation, training and employment policies.

Memorial Regional (including Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital) in Hollywood also participated in the HRC survey, getting marks for including sexual orientation in its patient rights and employment nondiscrimination policies.

Baptist Hospital, along with Broward General, Cedars and Mount Sinai medical centers did not provide data to HRC. Only Broward General includes sexual orientation in its patient nondiscrimination policies, according to an HRC study of those hospital websites.

``The vast majority of U.S. healthcare facilities don't have fully inclusive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,'' according to the HRC news release.

Jackson now scores highest in Florida. The Miami-Dade County medical center didn't rank among the nation's top hospitals because staff hasn't received on-going gay diversity training.

``We already had it in our new-employee orientation program. What we didn't have was an annual update,'' Cuming said. ``We're putting together a curriculum that would be part of the annual mandatory training for all employees. Next year, it's our intention to get a perfect score.''

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star