President Obama honors Janice Langbehen with 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal

President Obama today welcomed the 13 recipients of the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, to the White House. Janice Langbehn is one of the honorees. While on vacation with her family in February 2007, Langbehn’s partner, Lisa Pond, suddenly fell ill and was rushed to the hospital. Langbehn was refused access to her partner, who had experienced a brain aneurysm and later died alone.

With the help of Lambda Legal and GLAAD, she filed a federal lawsuit and worked to get her story out to the nation. Janice’s story received attention from President Obama, who personally apologized to her for the way she and her family was treated. Langbehn received the Citizens Medal for her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally. She wore purple in support of Spirit Day while receiving the medal today.

Janice’s story influenced the Obama administration’s policy on hospital visitation, and in September, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) unveiled new guidance to bolster enforcement of rules finalized last November that allow hospital patients to designate their own visitors and medical decision-makers, including a same-sex partner and child of a same-sex partner.

Those rules apply to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The guidelines require hospitals to allow patients to designate visitors and medical decision-makers of their own choice, including same-sex partners, parents and children regardless of whether the relationship is formally recognized. Hospitals must presume that those who say they are a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent or other family member is the designated medical decision-maker of the patient without requiring any documentation to prove the relationship.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and other members of the Task Force-convened New Beginning Initiative coalition have been advocating for such changes.