Hospital set to carry out domestic partnership law

New state regulations will affect both health care and employee policy.

By: David Campbell
   Princeton Health Care System is making efforts to ensure the hospital system is in compliance with the state Domestic Partnership Act when the law goes into effect Saturday.
   The act will affect several aspects of PHCS’s operations, both as a health care provider to the region and as an employer, said Corporate Compliance Officer Lisa Hartman.
   "We want to be able to be compliant with the act when it goes into effect," Ms. Hartman said. "Our position is we will treat domestic partners the same way as we would treat a spouse."
   The Domestic Partnership Act requires that prospective domestic partners jointly file an affidavit at their local registrar’s office. Offices will open on Monday for domestic-partnership registrations, though select offices will be open Saturday, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
   The law gives same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples age 62 and over many of the legal rights of married couples, including hospital visits, making emergency medical decisions, claiming each other as exemptions on state income-tax filings and qualifying for exemptions from the state inheritance tax.
   PHCS held an educational session Wednesday in which managers and staff were briefed on the new law, Ms. Hartman said.
   An information session for the public is scheduled 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Delaware Room of The Lambertville Station off Bridge Street in Lambertville. The session is free to the public and will be led by attorney Jeralyn L. Lawrence of firm Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, PHCS said.
   Talking points have been distributed for hospital employees, especially for those with registration and care responsibilities, so that they will be fully prepared to handle domestic partners visiting or staying at PHCS facilities, Ms. Hartman said.
   She indicated that the "umbrella policy" starting out will be fleshed out as hospital administrators and staff deal with issues as they arise once the law is in effect, such as in areas of visitation, advanced directives, computer systems and consent.
   "A lot of this we will have to look at as we go, because I don’t think we’re fully aware of all the ramifications at this point," Ms. Hartman said.
   One of the challenges PHCS will face, she continued, arises from the fact that the regulations are somewhat nonspecific and thus open to some interpretation.
   "Hospitals are seeing opportunities to form their own guidance in these matters," she said. "It’s so new to both the patient community and provider community that it will evolve as we move forward."
   Under the law, the hospital must recognize a domestic partner in an emergency situation regardless of whether proof of partnership is provided. In non-emergency situations, hospitals have discretion.
   PHCS’s position is that the hospital currently doesn’t require such proof from spouses, and so at present won’t ask for proof from domestic partners either, Ms. Hartman said.