Gay Couples Entitled to Nursing Home Visitation Rights

Coming in close proximity to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) featured an article about LGBT rights in the nursing home. According to the Washington Blade, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) clarified that LGBT couples will have the same guaranteed access to their partners and spouses as other married couples.

How will this affect nursing home residents in California? It will help secure LGBT rights in our state, which a number of California agencies have already been working toward.

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LGBT Elder Advocacy in California
According to the CANHR, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “face unique barriers to care and resources as they get older and require long-term health care.” The CANHR explains that there are a number of advocacy services in California dedicated to assisting the LGBT community.

· Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California: located in San Francisco county, this group offers a weekly meeting for LGBT Alzheimer’s caregiver support
· Equality California, or EQCA, “works to achieve equality and secure legal protections for LGBT people.” It sponsors legislation and lobbies legislators and policymakers throughout the state
· The LGBT Community Center of the Desert is California’s SAGE affiliate in Palm Springs. It offers a “Sustenance for Seniors” program that provides food for low-income LGBT residents in Riverside County
· The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center Senior Services officers case management and referrals for affordable housing, benefits, home health assistance, and legal matters to LGBT seniors aged 50 and older
· The LGBT Community Partnership seeks to improve access to services for elders and for people with disabilities.
· Lavender Seniors of the East Bay provides psychological services to older LGBT members of the community.

HHS Takes a Step Forward

What are the details of the HHS clarification? In short, new guidance from HHS explained that “gay people living in nursing homes will have the same guaranteed access to their partners and spouses as gay patients in hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid emphasized that this is the logical next step from President Obama’s 2010 memorandum that guaranteed hospital patients the right to have a same-sex partner visit them. Now, “hospital also means residents in long-term care facilities, or nursing homes.” Same-sex couples must “be given full and equal visitation privileges.” The guidance further details that by law residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, and that includes same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners.

The guidance was dated June 28, and the CMS Director of Survey & Certification made clear that it was to take effect immediately.

This is a big step forward for securing LGBT rights in California and throughout the country. Indeed, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health & Human Services, identified the new guidance as one of her goals for 2012 in order to “improve LGBT health.” With nearly 1.5 million people currently residing in nursing homes, of which more than 50,000 are likely members of the LGBT community, it was about time for this new guidance.

At the same time, with more than 1,000 nursing facilities in the state of California according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, members of the LGBT community and other nursing home residents will continue to face the threat of nursing home abuse and neglect. If you suspect that your elderly loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or nursing home neglect, contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer today.

Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos via Compfight cc

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