Property Rights

Sonoma County Responds to Story About Forced Separation of Elderly Gay Couple


Earlier this week, I posted a link to a gay rights advocacy group's account of a lawsuit filed by 78-year-old Clay Greene. According to Greene, when his 20-year partner Harold Scull fell ill, Sonoma County, California refused to allow Greene to visit him. Greene claims the county then forcibly entered Greene into a nursing home, terminated the couple's apartment lease, then auctioned off all of their assets.

I noted in the post that the story was only one half of a lawsuit, and now, in response to numerous complaints as the story spread across the Internet over the weekend, Sonoma County has issued a response, which you can read here. The county says Scull's initial hospitalization, described in the lawsuit as the result of a fall, was actually due to domestic abuse on the part of Greene. The county says Scull filed a report to that effect, and that the abuse was documented by hospital workers. But the letter adds that no criminal charges were filed against Greene.

I'm not sure what to make of that. I'm not familiar with California law on the matter, but while a report of domestic abuse may be enough to keep Greene from visiting Scull in the hospital (and for that to be a sensible decision), without criminal charges, I don't know how it allows the county to forcibly intern Greene in a nursing home and auction off all of his belongings. Then again, if the initial lawsuit neglected to mention the domestic abuse report, it's possible that it also overstated or misstated the county's actions with respect to Greene's property and nursing home stay.

MORE: Here's a write-up on the story by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

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  1. Here’s the only thing I’d like to add to this general debate.

    Who and where are these hospitals that are barring domestic partners from ‘seeing eachother’ in their rooms?

    Putting aside the real legal issues of property and signing forms for consent and the like (these issues are real), I just don’t see the epidemic of ‘non-family’ members being barred from sitting by the bed in a hospital room.

    I have spent more time in hospitals than I care to remember over the last decade with family members far and wide. Lots of time. Oodles of time.

    Never once, not once ever…ever ever has any hospital staff, nursing, doctors– anyone ever asked me for my relationship to the patient.

    And even if they had, what credentials would I have been able to supply proving my relationship? Except in the cases where I have a matching last name, I coudn’t prove any relationship with the people I was visiting.

    It just doesn’t make sense…

    1. The hospital would have the right to bar visitors or certain visitors if the hospitalized person made a complaint to police – restraining order, etc. or hospital security / social worker believed certain visitor(s) were a direct threat to the patient (in which case they would need to ionvolved the police) or patient had very infectious disease – I tend to believe the patient must had made a complaint to police/hospital because Sonoma County is pretty liberal, this hospital (which ever one it is) has certainly dealt with same sex domestic partners with end of life issues before…

      1. I hear you for this case. But there are dozens of other cases floating around that I keep hearing about, not even about forms of consent or legal issues, but have just been denied visitation by fact that they “aren’t related by blood or marriage”.

        I mean, I guess it might happen, but I have never been stopped before entering a hospital room under demand that I show my credentials proving my relationship to the patient.

        I mean, fuck, during my brief rollercoaster of a marriage my wife didn’t even have the same fucking last name as me. (which really makes divorce easy– gay couples- take note).

        1. You linked to the same story I was thinking of.

    2. There was that awful story a few years back of the UW professor (I think) whose partner was injured during the big storm (06?), and she was denied hospital visitation. Her partner eventually died.

    3. You’re right, Paul, but had you said you didn’t want to see someone – even if that person was your spouse – the hospital would have respected your wishes and barred that person.

  2. Domestic abuse in CA can mean a lot of things – if the person is deemed to be a caretaker in addition to spouse/partner but does not or cannot fulfill the duties of a caretaker as defined by law and as a result of that the care-receiver falls or doesn’t get his meds or develops STG III-IV pressure ulcers, etc. it can be used as evidence of domestic/elder abuse however its generally only forced if its believed the caregiver is purposefully neglecting the individual

  3. NutraSweet beats Warty unmercifully, and he still gets to visit him in the zoo hospital. But maybe Kentucky is different.

    1. KY laws concerning “animal” abuse are much looser than those concerning “human” abuse. C’mon, man, it’s Kentucky!

      1. He was only at the zoo hospital because the human MRI wasn’t big enough. You guys sure do like to make stuff up.

        1. You’re the liar! Everyone knows that Warty isn’t allowed in a people hospital.

          You know, when I think about it, the similarities between Warty and Animal from The Muppet Show are uncanny, though Warty is marginally more literate and Animal isn’t a metalhead.

          1. and Animal isn’t a metalhead

            Isn’t he? Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem is just a gig to pay the bills, man.

      2. I heard that to get your vet license in KY, you have to work in a slaughterhouse first.

        1. This is very funny. Thanks.

    2. Perhaps KY has a law exempting those “who fehckin deserv it” or something…

      1. Like Texas’s “he needed killin'” defense.

      2. You’re Kentucky accent is worse than your lap dancing, which I didn’t think was possible.

        1. Your. I had typed that first and then changed it for some reason. Homonyms suck.

        2. You Kentuckians should type everything in the correct accent for our elucidation and amusement.

          1. I do type in my accent. No one in Kentucky talks like Cletus unless they really want to. You don’t know what you are talking aboot.

            1. Uh, you don’t type with a lisp, dude, so you’re not typing in your accent.

              1. Projection.

                1. Denial.

            2. Type “Louisville.”

              1. Lou-a-vhul. But that’s not an accent, that’s just the least sissy way to say it.

            3. That’s disappointing. How are coastal elites supposed to feel superior now? Once again, Sug, you have ruined everything.

              1. I was in NYC once, hanging out with a college friend and a bunch of guys he had met from the city. After drinking for a few hours, our host leaned over and said “You speak very well.” I was a guest in his house, so I just smiled and thanked him. Asshole.

                1. You probably couldn’t even be fooled by “is the capital of Kentucky pronounced ‘Louis-ville’ or ‘Louie-ville’?” Like I said, no fun at all.

                2. “You speak very well.”

                  Oh, that is priceless. I’ll have to remember to do that to a southerner some time. By the way, NutraSweet, you write very well. It’s almost like you’re educated or something.

                  1. But that’s not an accent, that’s just the least sissy way to say it.

                    Well, now…that WOULD confuse a coastal elite.

                  2. He calls himself an librarian. In Kentucky, you get that title by indexing your porn.

                    1. I thought it was the ability to separate books into “burn”-“no burn” piles quickly and efficiently.

        3. Well, I have a lot more experience lap dancing than speaking like someone from Kentucky. After all, it’s far less degrading.

  4. There is no law that I’m aware of giving any family member or spouse the legal right to visit anyone else in a hospital, with the possible exception of parents and their children.

    Hospitals generally have a property right, by contrast, to control who goes where in the hospital building. A hospital would be foolish indeed to give allow someone into a hospital room if the patient had complained that the person abused them. Regardless of whether the allegation of abuse had been fully litigated.

    Hospitals also have the right to deny someone accused of abuse any access to the patient’s medical records, even if they are a spouse or family member of the patient and entitled to act as a surrogate decisionmaker.

    1. Hospitals also have the right to deny someone accused of abuse any access to the patient’s medical records, even if they are a spouse or family member of the patient and entitled to act as a surrogate decisionmaker.

      Speaking as a physician, this is correct; the hospital’s primary purpose is to protect the health and well being of a patient admitted for care. If a patient verbally expresses that abuse from a specific person has recently occurred, or if abuse is suspected upon admission consistent with a crime or abuse, the patient is listed as a “no report patient”. This is also true if the admitted patient is under the custody of an LEO or is a ward of the state. Meaning the hospital staff cannot confirm or deny the patient is currently admitted to the facility on the phone, in writing, or in person and is also legally obligated to deny visitation from anyone. This is covered under HIPAA to protect patient privacy and safety, as well as the liability of the hospital and it’s staff.

      This is of particular concern if the patient is incapacitated due to a critical care situation in general, and if the identity and next of kin of the patient cannot be immediately determined.

  5. I don’t know how it allows the county to forcibly intern Greene in a nursing home and auction off all of his belongings.

    There you go again, making that silly mistake thinking They have to abide by those even sillier laws.

  6. I volunteered at a major inner-city hospital one summer in the early 1990s. This was before HIPAA, which has changed some things, but in general the only times that guest access to patient rooms was denied were for clinical issues (infectious disease, ICU, etc.); at a patient/guardian’s request or for legal reasons such as the patient being in police custody while in the hospital.

    We didn’t have to ask for ID or patient relationships for anybody unless the patient had a “only these people can visit” or “this particular person cannot visit” restriction, so I’m sure I handed out visitor passes to some nontrivial number of gay partners that summer.

  7. What I see as these cases pop up, like the one in Seattle linked to above, is hospitals trying to comply with the ridiculously complicated privacy laws forced on them by Congress and CMS.

    Hospitals are barring people with no legal relationship to the patient from the patient’s room in order to comply with privacy laws. If the patient can communicate, then the patient can give consent to the disclosures that come with visitation rights. If the patient can’t communicate, its up to their surrogate decision-maker to consent to visitation and disclosure to the gay partner.

    Because there isn’t gay marriage, the gay partner has no legal status, and for the hospital to treat them as if they do would be a violation of federal (and likely state) privacy laws.

    I can hardly wait for the comment period on CMS’s new regulations, to see if they caught this and amended the HIPAA rules on privacy. Doing so as commanded by Obama is going to open a massive can of worms, for technical reasons.

    1. If the patient can’t communicate, its up to their surrogate decision-maker to consent to visitation and disclosure to the gay partner.

      This is assuming the surrogate decision maker is not already listed as a DPOA, provided it has already been filed with the state (depending on the state). MPOA’s can be signed on the spot provided the patient is not incapacitated or impaired d/t to RX (such as scheduled pain RX, anesthetics, or psychoactive RX) as they do not require an attorney to be present.

      Also RC, the impact this will have on VA facilities (hospital and 24/7 skilled care) will be even more interesting, re: DADT.

  8. I can’t speak to the specifics in this case, since I wasn’t there, but I can tell you that I have experienced a situation where I was personally barred from visiting my fiance when he was in the hospital for 5 days, on the basis that I was not “a blood or legal relative”. Didn’t matter to them that we’d been living together for umpteen years. It also didn’t matter that my fiance ASKED for me. And we were a heterosexual couple. So yes, hospitals and doctors frequently do whatever they feel like doing, based on their own personal judgments.

  9. Well since all gays are domestic abusers this is good enogh to prevent all of them from marriage and hospital visitation.

    Right? Do I now fit in with the editorial beliefs frequnetly presented by this “magazine”/blog?

    1. detfrost, why would you say that editors must think “all gays are domestic abusers?” The posting points out that one man in question is suspected by authorities of abuse, and that man also happens to be gay. How does that label “all gays,” as you say? I have a blue car. Does that mean I think that all cars are blue?

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