New hospital rules go into effect today, permitting patients to designate who may visit them. It's the result of an executive order by President Obama and is intended to address the issue of gay and transgender patients whose partners may be prohibited from visiting them at some hospitals.
The executive order applies to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid and expressly forbids denying visitation privileges because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Any hospital that fails to comply risks losing its federal funding.
"There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital.," Obama said when he signed the order last April. "In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean – a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has previously laid the groundwork for the new rules by reaching out to major hospital associations, urging them to encourage their member hospitals to change their visitation policies in advance of the new rule's taking effect.
"This policy impacts millions of LGBT Americans and their families. The President saw an injustice and felt very strongly about correcting this and has spoken about it often over the years," said Brian Bond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement . Bond said the policy change came about in large measure through the efforts of Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong, who became advocates for open visitation policies after their partners died at hospitals that frustrated their efforts to be with their loved ones during their final days.