Healthcare News & Insights

Nurse fired for HIPAA violation after discussing cop-killer patient: Was it fair?

Even an off-the-cuff venting session online can result in a HIPAA violation and firing if health providers aren’t careful about what they do — or don’t — say.

It was an emotional shift for many at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan. A young police officer had died there from wounds suffered in a shootout. The man who was accused of killing him was a few beds over, also being treated for gunshot wounds.

After her shift, Cheryl James, a nurse at Oakwood, logged on to Facebook to let off a little steam. She wrote a post saying that she had come face to face with evil, and hoped the (alleged) cop-killer would rot in hell. The post was strongly worded, but didn’t divulge the suspect’s name, medical condition or even which hospital he was being treated at.

Nonetheless, a few days after the post went up, James was called in by hospital management. She was told that hospital officials were aware of the post and were investigating.

James removed the post, and assumed she would be written up or suspended. A few days later, she was fired.

Although she didn’t reveal any specific identifying information, the hospital felt that heavy local news coverage of the shooting made it clear which patient she was discussing. And they were concerned that the disparaging tone of her comments was unprofessional. (Of course, the fact that the patient’s medical condition and hospital was available to anyone with Internet access or a newspaper adds another wrinkle to the idea of protecting patient information.)

Was James wrong to post about the accused murderer as she did? Even if you think it was wrong, should it have been a firing offense? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • Sawtooth

    Given the information in the article, she used poor judgement in picking such a medium to vent. Sometimes humans regardless of thier profession are given too heavy of standard to bear. Look at the troops coming back from the middle east dealing with what they have experienced or witnessed. Victim and suspect on the same unit, while probably unavoidable, too much for “everyone” involved with their care to maintain proper regulatory standards. The hosptial was probably doing some damage control and trying to minimize a possible fine. In reality, she probably didn’t divulge any more than what was broadcasted on the evening news that day. I think she would have learned from the incident and been better prepard if it happened again. Even asking to be reassigned to different patients the next time. I think the hospital could have made a better nurse of her by applying more understanding of what she was tasked to do that day.

  • Unconsitutional

    Her 1st amendment rights were violated, even though sher was a professional she was not making a statment as a official representative of the hospital, and the information could have been access more than likely by anyone paying attention to the news that day.

    If she wanted to she could easily sue the hospital over firing her. She should have been reprimanded and then her employers should leave it at that.

  • JIll Waggoner

    She has no recourse to sue her employer. She should have used better judgement. HIPAA regulation are there for patient privacy no matter who or what the person is. Also remember people are innocent until proven guilty. Even though the injuried man was accused of killing the policeman. He does not loose his HIPAA rights to privacy. The accused men was a patient with a gunshot wound to be treated and that is all.

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