3 Things You Should Know About Hospital Visitation Rights

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If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital, you know that visitors can be a welcome—and sometimes essential—part of the healing process. But wondering and worrying about who might be able to see you or when can add a significant amount of stress. Brush up on your hospital visitation rights here.

1. You’ll have to abide by the visitation policies

Many hospitals allow 24/7 visitor access, though they may encourage visitors not to camp out too long, so patients can get their rest. But some areas of the hospital may have stricter visitation policies than others. Emergency rooms, for instance, often deny access to certain treatment rooms where visitors might get in the way or delay treatment. Intensive care units might limit the number of visitors in the room at any time or have set hours for guests.

If you’re unsure about the policies at your particular hospital, ask. Staff should be able to provide you with a written outline of the visiting policies and procedures, and there may also be signs posted in particular wards. Keep in mind that many policies allow for staff discretion as well, and loud or disruptive behavior that may impair operations or the patient’s care can be asked to leave.

2. You have the right to choose your visitors

In the past, many hospitals required visitors to have a biological or legal relationship with the patient in order to gain access during visiting hours. And there are horror stories aplenty of unmarried and LGBT partners being denied access to ailing loved ones—sometimes even in the hours or days before their death. That changed in 2010, when the Department of Health and Human Services implemented a new rule protecting visitation privileges for everyone.

The new federal hospital visitation rule went into effect in 2011. Federally funded hospitals are required to allow patients to decide who can visit in the hospital—regardless of whether there is a biological or legal relationship. In addition, hospitals must explain your right to choose to you, as well as your right to withdraw consent to visitation at any time. That last part can be a relief for anyone worrying that their argumentative sibling or hospital-hating cousin may dominate a treatment room: As the patient, you have the right to deny visitation access to any person you choose.

3. You can pick a support person in advance

Picking and choosing visitors sounds great—but what if you’re unable to speak up about who you want in your hospital room? If you are physically unable to designate visitors, a “support person” will have the authority to make decisions about visitors on your behalf. A support person is an individual chosen by the patient who has authority to make visitation decisions on his or her behalf.

You may choose anyone to be your support person, including a partner or close friend, whether or not they have a legally recognized or biological relationship. The support person does not have to be your legal representative. In most situations, no proof will be required to verify a support person. (Though if more than one person claims the role, the hospital may require proof of established trust—such as shared finances or a shared residency—to settle the dispute.)

Once the person speaks up that he or she is your support person, the hospital is required to respect that and will turn to that person for visitation decisions on your behalf. It’s worth noting that the support person can be different than the person designated to make medical decisions on your behalf (which is chosen formally with an advance care directive or durable power of attorney for health care).

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