The day after a patient was discharged, I opened the patient’s chart to complete a care plan. I was accused of lying and violating HIPAA policy, and told I would be fired. I live in an at-will employment state, so I resigned before being fired. Before this incident, I reported physical sexual abuse by a doctor at this facility and feel I possibly could have been discriminated against because of this. What options do I have?
Nancy Brent replies:
It is a little unclear that opening a former patient’s chart to complete a care plan the day after a patient’s discharge is a HIPAA violation, so there is little that can be said about that situation without more detail. However, your concern about your reporting sexual abuse by a doctor at the facility being the reason you were charged with a HIPAA violation should be evaluated by a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works with employees.
Even though you resigned before you were fired the resignation was not voluntary and therefore may be considered a “constructive discharge,” meaning you had no choice but to resign before being fired. In short, the HIPAA allegation was the pretext for getting you out of the facility, but the actual force behind that allegation may be your report of the physician’s conduct.
When you meet with your attorney, bring any documents with you that support your report of the physician, including the actual report (if written), to whom the report was made, what was done as a result of the report, etc. Also, carefully reconstruct in your mind what happened after you went to the patient’s chart to finish your documentation, what was said, who was involved and the sequence of events leading up to your resignation. If your resignation was in writing, also bring that with you.