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Presidential Memorandum Allows Hospital Patients to Designate Visitors

by Astrid Fiano, DOTmed News Writer | April 16, 2010
New rules to ensure
patients have rights to visitors
beyond immediate family
President Obama has sent a memorandum to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, directing the initiation of rule-making for all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid services, to the effect that they must comply with respecting hospital patients' rights to receive designated visitors, as well as designated surrogate decision makers (proxies) for medical emergencies.

Generally, hospitals do not have to permit visiting of patients by persons who are not immediate family. The president pointed out in his memo that those who might be suffering from a sudden emergency or long hospital stay should not be "denied the support or comfort" of others whom patients wish to have as visitors, such as close friends. In addition, Obama said, gay and lesbian persons have often been denied visitation with partners, and the ability to act as legal surrogate for their partners. Obama also mentioned that this measure would help those patients who are members of religious orders, who would want another member of the order to make decisions on their behalf. The rules would likely also apply to all unmarried couples.

While noting some States have acted to address visitation privileges and rights of patients to designate visitors, the president said for others around the country, "the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences. It means that doctors and nurses do not always have the best information about patients' medications and medical histories and that friends and certain family members are unable to serve as intermediaries to help communicate patients' needs. It means that a stressful and at times terrifying experience for patients is senselessly compounded by indignity and unfairness. And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall."

President Obama said the new rules should make clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy the same visitation privileges that immediate family members would have. Hospitals subject to the rules may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, while respecting the need to restrict visitation when medically appropriate.

The President's directive may be accessed at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-hospital-visitation