4/24/2009

Oregon Man Thrown Out of Partner's Hospital Room

nurse ratchedImage by nexus6zora via Flickr

A man in Oregon who took his partner to the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital when he had difficulty breathing was ejected from the room by a staff nurse when it appeared the man might be dying.

According to reports the nurse ushered him to the door saying "Christopher is very ill and there are some life and death decisions to be made. Now is not the time for friends to be in the room."

The man finally located an attorney who made several phone calls and over two hours later he was readmitted to his partner's bedside.

Now, here's the kicker. The nurse's actions weren't just ugly and mean, they were illegal. The couple had a domestic partnership which supposedly grants access at exactly those times. She refused to honor that agreement.

This is a prime example of why "domestic partnerships", "civil partnerships" and "civil unions" are really not close to being equal to marriage. There is no doubt that married couples are allowed to stay with one another and make decisions in those situations. It is simply accepted that married couples have those rights.

However, when you have a "special" class from which you've chosen a handful of rights to grant to second-class citizens people become confused about what is allowed and what is not allowed. People have to carry around paperwork to "prove" their status and they have to spend time educating others about their relationships and rights. That is not acceptable and certainly not acceptable in life and death situations.

In this particular case, the outcome was a happy one. Christopher recovered and wil be discharged shortly. However, in that two hours it took to litigate rights that were perfectly legal and to satisfy this self-appointed Nurse Ratched, he could have died without the person he most wanted by his side.

The hospital apologized that this happened and has vowed they will do "additional training" for their staff.

Here's the thing and this is where the argument given by politicians about these second class designations fall apart. The idea that everyone who works in these facilities can be "educated" about what is allowed and what is not is a fallacy.

In most large hospitals a large portion (sometimes the majority) of nursing staffs are made up of what are called "contract nurses" or "traveling nurses." These professionals work for an agency and contract with hospitals around the US and worldwide to work in their facility for a number of months. Then they move along to another facility. Often, these nurses are not even US citizens. The Phillipines has become a major supplier of contract nurses for mid-size hospitals in the Southeast.

How are they to be adequately "educated" on scores of local and state laws about "domestic partnerships" or "civil unions" or whatever other term is chosen to appease the religious bigots among us? They only work for a short time in one area and they are usually not educated about family law.

I was in nursing for many years and don't recall a single in-service class to inform us of the rights of married couples. It was assumed that everyone knows. When we start throwing about second-class designations for relationships it is easy for these hospitals to forget or not even care to go into it with their "contract nurses." After all, most orientations last a matter of hours. In that time they have to cover hospital policies, administer CYA tests, talk about fire drills, emergencies, disaster drills, and the local code language used in that facility. There are hands-on demonstrations of IV pumps, issuing of passwords for computers, and how to charge your lunch to payroll deduction.

They may educate the current crop at OSHU, but by the time this crowd moves on to other places, they probably will forget to sit them down in the midst of all that other stuff and explain how they have to honor the second-class citizens of the state too meaning a repeat of this episode down the road. The word "married" could have avoided all of that.
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