Washington Adventist denied same-sex visitation; hospital apologizes

January 19, 2012

A Takoma Park woman has filed complaints with federal health authorities and the main hospital accreditation commission after staff at Washington Adventist Hospital denied her permission to visit her same-sex partner, who was taken there after suffering a seizure.

Such a denial would violate federal hospital visitation regulations and Maryland law. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, called on the hospital Thursday to review its visitation policies.

In a statement Thursday, the hospital said the incident was the result of poor communication and not a case of discrimination.

Last January, new federal regulations went into effect mandating that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients’ choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them. The advocacy group says it is aware of two instances since then — the Takoma Park one and another in Tennessee — when same-sex partners were denied hospital visitation.

The Maryland incident took place Nov. 13. Kathryn Wilderotter, 37, said she had an epileptic seizure, crashed her car and was taken to the hospital in Takoma Park, which considers itself to be among the country’s most progressive communities.

Wilderotter’s legal spouse and partner of 11 years, Linda Cole, arrived at the hospital and identified herself as Wilderotter’s partner but wasn’t recognized as family.

“Nobody would let her back,” Wilderotter said.

Cole wasn’t allowed to visit until Wilderotter’s sister arrived, Wilderotter said.

A hospital executive who called the couple six weeks later to apologize blamed the incident on a new employee, Wilderotter said.

In a statement Thursday, the hospital said: “We are deeply sorry for Ms. Cole feeling anything less than valued at Washington Adventist Hospital.” The hospital said it was committed to providing care to every community member and will review its annual patient rights training to make sure “it adequately addresses this issue.”

Cole filed a complaint with the Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit that accredits hospitals, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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