Despite a new federal regulation expanding hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples, the University Hospital’s longstanding non-discrimination policy will remain the same.

The federal regulation — which went into effect Jan. 18, 2011 as part of the Affordable Health Care for America Act — states that hospitals receiving government funding may not forbid visitation rights on the basis of a patient’s sexual orientation.

But according to Kelly Parent, the Patient & Family Centered Care program coordinator at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the federal regulation has not affected visitation policies at University hospitals, since same-sex couples already have equal visitation rights.

“U of M has always been very open and progressive in realizing that it’s not for us to judge, and it’s not for us to decide who the support person is,” Parent said. “As long as I’ve known, there’s never been a limitation saying that, ‘No, it’s a same-sex partner, you can’t come in here.’”

Cathy Kendrick, clinical nurse manager for the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at the University Cardiovascular Center, said that in her 16 years of nursing in the same two units, the visitation rules at the University hospital has been the same regardless of sexual orientation.

“They are no different from the rules that govern a heterosexual couple,” Kendrick said.

She added that sexual orientation is never a relevant factor in securing visitation rights.

“It’s not something that we intentionally need to know about the person,” Kendrick said. “There’s not a need to know what the person’s sexual orientation is unless it’s something that they want to share with us for whatever reason that’s personal to them or unless there is a medical reason for us to know.”

Kendrick said in her experience working for the University of Michigan Health System, there haven’t been any cases of homosexual patients reporting differential treatment. She describes a situation in which one of her patients treated at the hospital was thankful to have his partner there during a medical emergency.

“His gratitude was based on just the care that we delivered and the fact that he was able to be there with his partner during a time of desperate need,” Kendrick said.

Prior to the implementation of the new health care regulation, homosexual individuals were sometimes banned from visiting their partners, even in cases of life or death.

In these instances — which often occurred in states where gay marriage is illegal — same-sex partners were not permitted visitation rights because they didn’t legally qualify as family.

Parent said the University Hospital has never denied anyone these rights because patients define who their family members are. In addition, visitors designated as family are allowed to stay at the patient’s bedside 24/7 as part of the UMHS patient visitation policy.

“Family does not have to be a blood relative; family is whoever they define as their support person or as their support people,” Parent said of the UMHS policy.

UMHS is also making strides to get rid of the word “visitor” in its written visitation policy, according to Parent.

“We have gone a step further saying that a parent, a spouse, a same-sex partner or a child of an adult patient should not be called visitors because we are not visitors in the lives of our loved ones,” Parent said.

This distinction between being called a “visitor” or “family” can have a great impact on family members during emotional times, Parent said.

“When my daughter was ill a few years back, I would never want to be termed as a visitor in my daughter’s life,” she said. “My identification badge would say ‘visitor,’ but now at Mott, all of the identification badges say ‘parent’ or ‘grandparent’ or ‘spouse.’ It’s saying you are family, so we’re not going to kick you out, even when visiting hours are over.”

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