Fresno Hospital Discrimination - Case Profile

December 16, 2009

On May 29, 2009, Teresa Rowe and Kristin Orbin attended the “Meet in the Middle” rally in support of marriage for same-sex couples in Fresno. After the couple completed a 14-mile march in 90 degree heat, Kristin, who suffers from epilepsy, collapsed in a seizure. The couple experienced hostility from the ambulance driver, but Teresa was ultimately allowed to accompany Kristin to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno. However, when the couple got the hospital, the driver would not allow Teresa to accompany Kristin into the emergency room even though Kristin had been in and out of consciousness, and Teresa was familiar with her medical history and care.

Teresa repeatedly asked hospital employees to allow her to see Kristin and talk to a physician about her care but was refused. She volunteered to have Kristin’s legal paperwork naming Teresa as her health care agent faxed to the hospital but was told that it wouldn’t do any good. When she asked that she at least be allowed to pass along the message that Kristin not be given the drug Ativan, she was told the message would be conveyed. If the message was given to those treating Kristin, it was ignored because Kristin was given the drug, which she didn’t need and which causes her unnecessary pain. Meanwhile, when she was awake, Kristin was also asking to be allowed to see Teresa. Although they were both told that no visitors were allowed in the area where Kristin was being treated, other patients were receiving guests. After being separated for several hours, Kristin finally saw her doctor. She complained to him, and Teresa was eventually allowed to be with her.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have sent a letter to the hospital urging that it adopt policy changes respecting same-sex relationships.  The letter charges that it was a violation of state law for the hospital to discriminate against the couple based on their sexual orientation, as well as to refuse to recognize Teresa’s legal authority, which was authorized by Kristin’s advance health care directive. The letter also notes that hospitals must post and follow a patient’s bill of rights that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and grants patients the ability to designate visitors of their choosing and to decide who is able to make emergency decision about their care. The letter urges Community Medical Centers immediately to affirm their commitment to inclusive and sensitive medical care for LGBT patients, and to take a number of steps to carry out that commitment.

Status: VICTORY! The hospital has agreed to make policy changes and conduct staff trainings to ensure that the rights of its LGBT patients and family members are properly respected.

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