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Obama mandates hospital rights for LGBT couples

Visitation, decision-making privileges included

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President Obama said that 'too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall.' (Photo courtesy of Democratic National Committee)

The White House on Thursday unveiled a memorandum requiring most hospitals to offer hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.

The memo, signed by President Obama and issued to the Department of Health & Human Services, mandates that all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds allow LGBT people to designate their partner as visitors.

Additionally, the memo requires these hospitals allow patients to designate a same-sex partner as someone who can make medical decisions for them in the event of an emergency. The directive also requires HHS to provide recommendations, within 180 days, on other actions the department can take “or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”

In the memo, Obama says he’s issuing the guidance because the failure to have same-sex couples’ wishes respected “concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”

“And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall,” says the memo.

But memo also says it’s not intended to create any right of benefit “enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.”

In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign praised Obama for issuing the guidance and said it was inspired by a New York Times profile on Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn.

According to HRC, Langbehn and her partner’s children were kept away from Pond’s bedside as she lay dying, even though Pond had a medical directive. After Pond’s death, Lambda Legal represented Langbehn in a later lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and worked with the hospital to revise its policies.

The HRC statement says the organization worked with the White House and HHS “in support of the memorandum.”

“No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the president’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family,” Joe Solmonse, HRC’s president, said in a statement.

Also praising the president’s move was Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, who said the measure “follows the lead of many states and makes a strong statement about who we are as a nation and what we value.”

“No one should face the distress of lying ill or injured in a hospital bed with the loved one you designate barred from your bedside for any other than a compelling medical reason,” she said. “For too long, such access has been arbitrarily denied many individuals, most especially to gay and lesbian Americans.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, also lauded the president’s move in a statement. She noted that she was with Langbehn and her family during the death of her partner.

Chrisler said it’s past time for same-sex couples to “have the very basic and simple right to hold their partner’s hand at the hospital bedside.”

“I am grateful the president recognizes that this is a vital step in helping protect LGBT families in a great time of need,” she said.

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New CDC report finds transgender women at higher risk for HIV

More than 1,600 people in seven cities surveyed

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (Photo courtesy of the CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new study report this week that revealed that restricted by employment and housing discrimination and lack of access to needed gender-affirming healthcare for transgender women increasing the risk of contracting HIV. 

Researchers reviewed data from a 2019-2020 survey, the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance Among Transgender Women, which found that the demographics of HIV/AIDS have been disproportionally high, especially among Black and Latina trans women, who had experienced employment and housing discrimination coupled with lack of access to gender-affirming healthcare.

The Jan. 25 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report was based on data studies of more than 1,600 trans women in seven major urban locales. Participants from Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle were chosen by referrals from people and community-based organizations who knew or were part of the local population of trans women.

The study’s researchers noted: “Employment discrimination occurs at the overlapping nexus of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, health insurance, disability, food insecurity and survival sex work. These issues are interconnected.”

The study stated that trans women’s inability to access quality healthcare, including gender-affirming treatment or access to PrEP, and can expose them to potential incarceration as many turn to “survival sex work” and violence, which increases the risk of contracting HIV. 

The study’s author’s pointed out: “When economically marginalized transgender women are refused employment, this refusal cyclically contributes to economic hardships. This analysis …demonstrates the importance of transgender women working and living with dignity and without fear of unfair treatment.”

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A Whole New Perspective on Well-Being

The Mather’s team recognizes that everyone’s wellness journey is completely unique to their life experiences and influences.

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The Mather is incorporating biophilic design—a design approach to facilitate access to nature or things that replicate natural patterns.

It’s easy to spot the distinctive, elegant silhouette of The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62+ opening this spring in Tysons, Virginia. What is not apparent to the naked eye is The Mather’s unique wellness philosophy, which is literally built into the community. 

The Mather’s team recognizes that everyone’s wellness journey is completely unique to their life experiences and influences.

Nature is one of the important factors that contribute to well-being. So The Mather is incorporating biophilic design—a design approach to facilitate access to nature or things that replicate natural patterns. This can include interior spaces with sightlines to a garden, choosing natural wood and stone as interior materials, or incorporating fragrant flowers and plants indoors to spark memories and provide tactile opportunities such as gardening. 

Residents of The Mather will be able to select from plentiful amenities, programs, and other offerings to target their personal wellness goals and preferences.

“Providing biophilic design within interior settings connects residents to the natural world,” says Mary Leary, CEO and President of Mather, the organization behind The Mather. “Research shows that a connection to nature provides positive benefits to mental states and overall well-being. At The Mather, biophilic design is the intersection of buildings and programs with nature in an urban setting.”

“The Mather is attracting a diverse group of older adults,” says Mary. “As a result, we aim to incorporate wellness practices from around the world, including Wyda movement theory of the Celtic Druids, which helps people achieve harmony with nature and contentment through mindfulness.” This holistic regenerative approach is similar to Qi Gong and yoga, while born in a different part of the world. Mather Institute has a special focus on mindfulness to support older adults’ practice of present moment awareness, which can lead to increased overall well-being, compassion, and joy.

A very different example of a wellness offering at The Mather is the Gharieni Welnamis spa wave bed, which uses computer-controlled vibrational therapy and audio frequencies to train the brain to relax. “The bed increases mindfulness, concentration, and creativity—all of which support our mission of creating Ways to Age Well,SM” says Mary.

These and other personalized ways to wellness will ensure that residents of The Mather can choose from seemingly countless ways to focus on their well-being. In other words, the sky’s the limit!

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Cases of multi-drug resistant gonorrhea ‘super strain’ multiply

CDC and WHO have once again sounded alarm about STI

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Gonorrhea bacterium (CDC/Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the World Health Organization  are raising red flags for the second time this year as cases multiply of a “super strain” of drug-resistant gonorrhea globally, but particularly among men who have sex with men. 

This strain of gonorrhea has been previously seen in Asia-Pacific countries and in the U.K., but not in the U.S. A genetic marker common to two Massachusetts residents and previously seen in a case in Nevada, retained sensitivity to at least one class of antibiotics. Overall, these cases are an important reminder that strains of gonorrhea in the U.S. are becoming less responsive to a limited arsenal of antibiotics.

Gonorrhea is a STI with most people affected between ages 15-49 years. Antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced the options for treatment.

Last February, cases of XDR, or “extensively drug resistant,” gonorrhea, are on the rise in the U.S., the CDC said.

Gonococcal infections have critical implications to reproductive, maternal and newborn health including:

  • a five-fold increase of HIV transmission
  • infertility, with its cultural and social implications
  • inflammation, leading to acute and chronic lower abdominal pain in women
  • ectopic pregnancy and maternal death
  • first trimester abortion
  • severe neonatal eye infections that may lead to blindness.

This past January, Fortune reported the U.S. is experiencing “a rising epidemic of sexually transmitted disease,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said with some experts referring to the issue as a “hidden epidemic.” 

Cases of gonorrhea — an STI that often shows no signs, but can lead to genital discharge, burning during urination, sores, and rashes, among other symptoms — rose by 131 percent nationally between 2009 and 2021, according to public health officials. While rates of STI transmission in the U.S. fell during the early months of the pandemic, they surged later in the year, with cases of gonorrhea and syphilis eventually surpassing 2019 levels, according to the CDC.

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