By Jessica Bakeman
ALBANY Some large hospitals' websites in New York include information restricting patient visits to immediate family, even though that is inconsistent with federal and state law, a report Thursday found.
Two Rochester and two Westchester County hospitals are among those disseminating information that conflicts with the laws, which allow a patient to choose who visits. The report by the New York Public Interest Research Group and patient advocates reviewed 99 New York hospitals with 200 or more staffed beds.
"Every patient should have someone with them to help them through the process. Traditionally, over the decades, once you get into a cardiac-care unit or an intensive-care unit, the hospital might say 'immediate family only,'" said Suzanne Mattei, executive director of New Yorkers for Patient & Family Empowerment, during a conference call with reporters Thursday. "For many people, that's not appropriate."
The federal government changed regulations regarding patient visits in November 2010 after a woman was denied access to her dying partner of 18 years at a Florida hospital because the lesbian couple was not considered "family."
In July 2012, Mattei's group did a survey of 99 of New York's largest hospitals, checking to see if their websites had been updated to reflect the federal regulations and a corresponding state law. Then, only 11 hospitals had posted the correct information.
Mattei's group wrote letters to the hospitals asking them to update their websites. Another review late last month showed improvement; now, 36 of the hospitals have explicitly stated that patients have the right to choose their visitors.
But seventeen hospitals still use the restrictive language, including two in Rochester -- Rochester General Hospital and Unity Hospital -- and two in Westchester County -- St. John's Riverside Hospital in Yonkers and Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow.
Hospital representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.
Some of the hospitals the groups contacted argued that while their websites were not updated, the facility's procedures are in compliance. The hospitals give information sheets to patients informing them of their right to choose who visits them.
But Russ Haven, legislative counsel for NYPIRG, said the conflicting information on a website could cause confusion or deter visitors.
"In many cases in the 21st century, websites are the go-to place for information," Haven said. "So visitors might self-regulate if it looks to be a restriction that applies to them.
"Mixed messages may be delivered," he added.
Other hospitals in the review did not have restrictive information on their websites but did not adequately explain patients' rights, either, according to the advocates. Those include Mercy Hospital of Buffalo and Good Samaritan Regional Center in Suffern, Rockland County, according to the report.
Thirty-four hospitals improved their websites after Mattei's group urged them to last year. For example, Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie previously had the incorrect information on its website and has since updated it. Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca and Highland Hospital in Rochester previously did not include any information on their websites regarding visitation, but now they have added language regarding patients' right to choose their visitors.
"This is relatively easy to clean up," Haven said. "We will encourage the hospitals to do that."