Washington nurse who barred woman from seeing her dying partner cleared of wrongdoing

Not even a week after President Obama mandated hospital visitation rights for gays, a nurse in King County, Wash., who kept a lesbian from seeing her dying partner in the hospital hours before the patient's death at the University of Washington Medical Center was found to have not violated any constitutional or legal rights, a jury found on Wednesday. 

The nurse in this case, Karen Hulley, had been accused by Sharon Reed of barring Reed from the room of her partner, JoAnn Ritchie, on the night of Sept. 3, 2005, because of her homophobia, according to the Seattle Times. Reed was kicked out of the room six times from that night through the next day, and was not in the room when Ritchie died at 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 4. 

Defense attorneys for Hulley and AMN Healthcare, the staffing agency that sent Hulley to UW Medical Center, countered that Reed "upset" Ritchie and "interfered with her care"; specifically, Hulley testified that Ritchie's heart rate would rise when Reed was in the room, and that Ritchie wanted to take her breathing mask off to talk with Reed. 

"I asked her to please step out," Hulley said, according to the Times. "I asked her to not stimulate her partner." 

Reed's lawyer Judith Lonnquist said Hulley never read over legal documentation that Reed possessed proving that Reed had a right to oversee Ritchie's care. She added that, had Reed been Ritchie's husband instead of her partner, she would have been allowed to stay.

"I think this is clearly a trial about sexual orientation," Lonnquist said. "We can't say for sure whether this nurse was homophobic." 

Reed was suing Hulley and AMN Healthcare for $600,000 in damages. The jury decided, 10-2, to dismiss the suit. 

The case was similar to that of Janice Langbehn, who in February 2007 also was barred from seeing her dying partner, Lisa Pond, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami just hours before Pond's death. In the wake of that case, Jackson Memorial altered its visitation policy to include gay partners as family members, which ultimately led to Obama's mandate. 

To learn more:
- read this Seattle Times article