Rolling Hills resolves visitation rights issue

A Middle Tennessee woman has been allowed visitation rights of her partner at a local hospital after first being denied by staff.

Rolling Hills Hospital in Franklin rejected multiple requests by Val Burke to visit her partner, who is currently a patient in the hospital's residential facility. Burke was excluded from the room since she was not a legal spouse or family member.

Richard Bangert, CEO of Rolling Hills, will meet with Burke on Wednesday to discuss the incident. He says the facility's staff have been given a reminder about the hospital's visitation rights.

"We take this very seriously and immediately communicated with staff once this issue was brought to our attention," Bangert says. "We apologize for the misunderstanding."

Although visitation times at the facility are held only on Sundays, Burke will be offered a special appointment time to see her partner.

"I am glad that no one else will have to deal with this, especially when we are dealing with mental health," Burke says. "I told them by not letting us see our significant others may just give them another reason to want to do something drastic."

Under recent federal regulations, patients at most hospitals across the country are allowed to choose who has visitation rights. These rules apply to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. 

Hospitals are also required to put their visitation policies in writing, including any "clinically necessary or reasonable restrictions" to visitation that may be appropriate.

Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) contacted Rolling Hills Sunday evening and confirmed that the facility participates in Medicare and Medicaid. After the organization informed administrators of the new federal rules, Rolling Hills reversed their original decision regarding Burke's case.

"TEP was glad to help bring resolution to the situation," says Chris Sanders, chair of TEP's Nashville committee. "Val's story reminds us that health facilities need more education about the new regulations so we can prevent this from happening again."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called on all hospitals to review their policies and practices related to hospital visitation.

“Discrimination in a personal medical setting may be one of the worst forms of discrimination LGBT people face,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Federal regulations were put in place for precisely this reason, to stamp discrimination out of the healthcare process and allow all people to be by their loved ones during their most vulnerable moments.”

Val Burke previously served as a volunteer staff writer for O&AN. Her articles can be found in the O&AN archives.

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