Hospital sued by gay man denied access to partner

In what could signal a need for hospitals to revise their longstanding rules about who constitutes "family," a Baltimore hospital is under fire for its refusal to allow a gay man access to his partner during treatment.

Bill Flanigan recently filed suit against the University of Maryland Medical System for "negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress." The suit arose from a situation in which Flanigan says he was temporarily denied access to his partner of five years, Robert Daniel, during treatment at the medical system’s shock trauma center in Baltimore. Daniel was taken to the center on Oct. 16, 2000, for treatment of an AIDS-related complication.

The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is representing Flanigan pro bono and issued a statement explaining the lawsuit. According to the group, Flanigan asked hospital staff if he could see the patient and confer with his doctors soon after his admission to the Shock Trauma Center. The hospital reportedly told him that only family members were allowed to do so, and that "partners’ did not qualify," according to Lambda.

Flanigan explained he had a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and that he and Daniel were registered as domestic partners in California. Still, Flanigan was refused access to Daniel or his doctors and was provided no information on his partner’s condition, according to the lawsuit. When Daniel’s sister and mother arrived four hours later, they interceded, and Flanigan was allowed access to the patient. But by then Daniel had lapsed into unconsciousness and never awakened.

The University of Maryland Medical Center released a statement explaining that it had not yet been served with a lawsuit, but that it had followed proper procedures in the case. The hospital said: "According to (Maryland) state law, someone who says he is a guardian or has power of attorney for health care must present documentation of those wishes. Otherwise, we rely on family members."