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.