On June 28, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a “reminder” to State Survey Agency Directors about access and visitation rights in long-term care (LTC) facilities.
The gist of the memo was to clarify that the 24-hour access and visitation rights residents already have include access and visitation by same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners. As the memo stated, “Residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends.” (Emphasis added.)
Denial of visitation rights to same-sex spouses and same-sex domestic partners is still a sad reality for many LGBT older people. The story of Charles and Douglas, found below, illustrates this point. (Note: while the CMS memo refers to LTC facilities, and Charles and Douglas’ story took place in a hospital, the underlying theme is the same, an utter lack of respect for a same-sex couple’s relationship by the people who should have been supporting them.)
By reiterating resident rights concerning access and visitation, CMS has sent a strong message not only to those who run LTC facilities but also to LGBT older adults, their family members, and friends that LGBT older adults and their loved ones must simply be treated the same as everyone else.
Charles and Douglas’ Story
Like newlyweds the world over, Charles and Douglas were flying high on their return trip to Salt Lake City following their joyous marriage celebration in New York City in 2011. Hand in hand, they were still glowing after the ceremony that sealed the bond of their 12-year relationship. But onboard the flight back to Utah, a sobering thought began to sink in for Charles—the sad recognition that marriage equality was still something that existed only in a few states. He pulled aside a flight attendant and asked, “Will you let us know when we cross over into Pennsylvania? Because after that, we are no longer legal.”