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What can I do about HIPPA violations and bullying from my manager?

Question:

Dear Nancy,

I was wondering what I could do about HIPPA violations, bullying from my manager, and verbal, mental, and physical abuse from my manager. I was a patient (in critical condition) at the hospital where I was employed at the time. Everyone in the hospital had access to my chart, including asking coworkers from the floor I was on. I contracted MRSA from the Vent, almost died five times, became septic, and had PEs. You name it, it happened. I went home after eight weeks at the hospital and spent four months recuperating at home. When I went back to work, my manager terrorized me. She instructed any nurse that I worked with to come to her before talking with me regarding any situation that occurred while I was at work. After the abuse continued, she fired me. I have extensive documentation along with another nurse she was bullying at the same time. I was not so lucky as my coworker (she resigned before being fired). I had no idea that there was a problem. I worked more than my three shifts a week, helped out where I could. Then went onto four months of unemployment and landed a job as a travel nurse. I had to leave my home state just to get a job. I am just trying to figure out where to go.

Clara

Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Clara,

The situation you describe is inexcusable. Not only may there be HIPAA violations, but there are potential violations of your right to privacy and confidentiality while a patient in the hospital. Although maintaining one’s rights when in a hospital where one is also employed can be more difficult, it does not excuse staff from invading your privacy, breaching your confidentiality, and violating other rights under federal law. The right of privacy requires an individual be free from unreasonable intrusions into one’s private affairs. Unless one gives consent to have another share private information (in this case, medical treatment, condition(s), etc.), the information is to be kept private. A breach of confidentiality takes place when a special relationship is formed (e.g., nurse-patient, physician-patient) and the expectation that the information shared in that special relationship will not be shared with a third party unless consent is given or unless specific circumstances exist (e.g., the information must be shared to save the life of the patient). Neither appears to have been present in your submitted question. There are many reported cases of a patient’s invasion of privacy and a breach of confidentiality. In two interesting, earlier cases (decided before HIPAA’s Privacy Rule), both were decided in favor of the patient. In Melvin v. Burling 1980*, a supervisor of a former employee went to the post-anesthesia area of the hospital, lifted the sheet over the patient, and viewed the former employee’s abdominal incision. The former employee was still under the influence of anesthesia and could not have consented to the supervisor’s actions. In Miller v. Motorola 1990**, an occupational health nurse shared information about an employee’s mastectomy with several other employees. Sharing the information with the other employees was seen by the appellate court as the dissemination of the information to the employee’s “public” group and this satisfied the elements of the tort of invasion of privacy. It would be best for you to contact a nurse attorney or attorney whose practice is in personal injury as soon as possible so he or she can advise you of your options under these two possible causes of action. The attorney can also advise you about the potential HIPAA violations, as well.

Cordially,
Nancy

*490 N.E. 2d 1011 (3rd App. District 1980)
** 560 N.E. 2d 900 (App. Ct. 1st District 1990)

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By | 2009-06-17T00:00:00-04:00 June 17th, 2009|Categories: Blogs, Nursing Careers and Jobs|0 Comments

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