Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes must extend the same spousal visitation rights to all residents regardless of sexual orientation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services clarified in a June 28 memorandum. 

“Residents must be notified of their rights to have visitors on a 24-hour basis, who could include, but are not limited to, spouses (including same-sex spouses), domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners), other family members, or friends,” the memo to state survey agency directors states.

Surveyors should ask residents and family members if they are aware of this policy, and should follow up with facility staff regarding any potentially unwarranted limitations or restrictions. Nursing homes can impose “reasonable restrictions” on visitation to ensure security.

The memo clarifying this existing regulation came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, opening up federal benefits to same-sex couples in states allowing gay marriage. However, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had already listed this clarification of visitation rights as a goal in a 2012 report on LGBT-related objectives. The memo was timed to coincide with Pride Month.

“Today, as the Department of Health & Human Services celebrates Pride Month, we have clarified regulations for federally regulated nursing facilities, to protect visitation rights for residents in same-sex relationships,” CMS spokesman Brian Cook said, according to the Washington Blade. “This new guidance furthers the administration’s commitment to equality for same-sex couples and will help to guarantee that spouses or domestic partners of nursing home residents have every opportunity to be with their loved ones.”

Click here to access the Survey & Certification memo.