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California Lesbian Couple Faced Discrimination at Fresno Hospital

California Lesbian Couple Faced Discrimination at Fresno Hospital

Teresa Rowe's partner of 3 1/2 years, Kristin Orbin, who is epileptic, collapsed after the Equality March in Fresno, suffering three grand mal seizures. The volunteer emergency aid staff at the Meet in the Middle rally responded promptly and appropriately, but that is opposite of what happened in the ambulance and at the hospital. Lesbian and gay couples are still struggling to get proper care in medical emergencies.

"As I was laying there all alone, I wondered how many people from the LGBTQ community die by themselves because they are denied a basic right. The thought frightens me." Kristin Orbin, 29, explained her ordeal at Fresno County Hospital on Saturday, May 30th, to the Examiner.

Orbin and Teresa Rowe, 30, who live in Northern California, have been partners 3½ years, and were in Fresno for Meet in the Middle 4 Equality, an event protesting the California Supreme Court's ruling to uphold Proposition 8. 

After a 14-mile march in Central Valley heat, Orbin, who is epileptic, collapsed suffering three grand mal seizures. The volunteer emergency aid staff at the rally responded promptly and appropriately. A doctor at a first aid center had difficulty finding her pulse, so he called 911. 

Orbin said the discrimination began at the time the paramedics arrived and continued upon arrival at the hospital.

"By that time, I was awake and aware of what was happening.  They wanted nothing to do with Teresa and she had to practically fight them to be allowed to ride in the ambulance.  Once we got to the hospital, they wheeled me into a hallway and left me, refusing to allow Teresa to be with me."

Orbin explained that the paramedic told the nurse on duty at that time that she collapsed after marching 14 miles for civil rights, and the nurse gave Orbin a dirty look, then said "ooooh."  She further explained, "I asked if Teresa could come back with me, but the nurse told me I was in a no visitor zone. When I asked her why everyone else had visitors, she said 'those people are different.'"

At that point, Orbin went to sleep, but was awakened because a nurse was giving her benzodiazapine Ativan, a drug that gives her severe migraine headaches.  She then realized just how severe her situation had become.

"Teresa was finally able to make her way up to the front desk and convince them to get a cell phone to me.  When I talked to her, she said she had told the nursing staff not to give me Ativan, but they refused to listen to her. They refused to take my medical cards from her.  They refused Teresa's offer to have my advance directive and power of attorney faxed over from UCSF."

Orbin noted she asked the nursing staff repeatedly if Rowe could come be with her, but they continually refused. "They just kept looking at my Marriage Equality shirt and giving me dirty looks," she said.

Orbin and Rowe were not reunited until hours later when a doctor intervened. "When the doctor arrived, I asked him if Teresa could join me. He asked me why she wasn't already with me, and I told him the nursing staff told me I was in a no visitor zone.  The doctor gave me an odd look and said, 'I will take care of that'.  He left the room, and a few minutes later Teresa came in, but she said she was told by the front desk that she could only stay for a few minutes."

However, Orbin explained that the sudden change in the nursing staff occurred while the doctor was around, finally allowing Rowe to stay with her until she was cleared to be discharged.  "They finally figured out that we were not happy and one of the nurses came up and told Teresa that she could stay. Once she was back there people started being more kind to us, but I truly believe they were just trying to cover themselves."

The couple had never been faced with such glaring discrimination.  They have contacted the ACLU to get legal advice. Orbin was most bothered at the continued refusal by the hospital staff to acknowledge Rowe as her spouse, as well as their failure to be respectful or kind on any level when interacting with either herself or Rowe. 

This incident is sadly yet another reminder of the amount of work that still must be done before anyone can say the United States has true equality.

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