Last week, Val Burke of Middle Tennessee was prevented from visiting her partner of three years at Rolling Hills Hospital, where her partner is a patient in the residential facility. Burke had visited before with her partner’s mother, but when she tried to visit her partner alone during the appropriate hours, she was told she could not because she is not a legal spouse or family member. According to Out & About Newspaper, Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) contacted the hospital on behalf of Burke to inquire about the incident. As of this year, federal regulations on equal visitation require that all hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare programs must allow patients to choose their own visitors, including their same-sex partners. The federal Health and Human Services Department released a statement earlier this year promising to step up its enforcement of this policy.
TEP discussed Rolling Hills’ treatment of Burke with a hospital official and confirmed that it does participate in Medicare/Medicaid programs. After noting the equal visitation regulation and a meeting among hospital administration, Rolling Hills contacted Burke to schedule visitation. Chris Sanders, chair of TEP’s Nashville committee, commented on the matter, saying, “The regulation is still relatively new, so it's likely that these kinds of incidents will unfortunately continue to occur… It is clear that we all need to do more to educate the health care industry about this important policy change.”
GLAAD thanks Out & About Newspaper for bringing this story to wider attention, and applauds Tennessee Equality Project for acting quickly to ensure that Burke and her partner were able to see each other in the hospital and that these protections were properly enforced.