Employee Fired for Accessing Son’s Records Reinstated

A Wisconsin woman who was fired in September 2008 for accessing her estranged son’s medical records was reinstated last month after an arbitrator deemed the punishment excessive.

After learning her son sought care at the hospital, the woman, a health unit coordinator at St. Francis Hospital for 30 years, accessed his records eight times in one year in hopes of learning his current address or when he was next scheduled for an appointment. The mother acknowledged that her actions were inappropriate, but said she accessed her son’s records to find out whether he was okay after one of his friends was murdered in 2007.

The woman was unable to contact her son because his medical records listed her residence as his home address and listed no appointments. However, after someone saw her son enter a residence, the woman sent him a birthday card to that address. The son, who is in his mid-20s, then filed a complaint with the hospital alleging she must have gotten the address through his confidential medical records, which prompted the investigation and her firing.

The woman’s union, the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Care Professionals, appealed the firing. Arbitrator Coleen Burns of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission changed the discipline from a firing to a suspension and ordered the woman reinstated.

Burns noted in her ruling that illegally accessing his medical records was not justified. She called it “egregious misconduct” that was an aberration from her otherwise positive record.

Hospital lawyer Stacie Andritsch said the employee had resumed employment at the hospital, which will not appeal the decision.

Tell us what you think. Was the punishment excessive? Should the woman have been reinstated?

18 Comments

  1. In my opinion, she should be going to jail, not returning to work.
    We need zero tolerance policies in place and enforced or the public will never have confidence in our diligence to protect their privacy.

    Post a Reply
  2. I do not think it was excessive at all. We have a no tolerance policy for this in our facility. The same rules that apply to the patients accessing their records applies to us and then some. We cannot access an of age child’s records without their saying so in writing. I do not believe she should be able to return to work, because I know if I did that, I would be terminated and unable to ever apply for a position in the future at any of our facilities… period. I hope it wasn’t a fellow employee that informed her to begin with too.

    Post a Reply
  3. I think that the suspension is the “right” way to go. Shouting zero-tolerance would only be for show as this case had several mitigating factors. One being that this was a family member and the second being that the son’s medical record still listed the mother’s home as his place of residence.

    Post a Reply
  4. Hi,

    Was her punishment struck down because the facility did not have or did not follow specified punishment levels that match the level of the offense. Otherwise, I am not sure now it could have been over turned.

    Post a Reply
  5. In today’s society we overthink everything. Although it was inapproporiate for her to view his records, she is his mother and did not use any information to cause harm or give out the info to others. She sent him a birthday card for goodness. As far as him using “her” address as his, then she should have proceeded to get him for providing a false residence…… it could go on and on. God bless.

    Post a Reply
  6. Patients are entitled to the same privacy from family members as from other staff members. We have no information on why they were estranged or why he did not want her to know his address. Being a family member is NOT a mitigating factor. Our job is to protect the patient’s privacy.

    Post a Reply
  7. I go along with Lori D. in this instance. This employee had a clean record for 30 years; obviously a good employee. She did not use the information for harm, and he was falsely using her address as his residence. I’ve had a wayward son, and just want to know they are safe. As a rule, she did not use her access ability to look into patient’s records, and probably would not have looked this time if there had been routine contact. I’m glad they gave her another chance. Thanks –

    Post a Reply
  8. I agree with Barbara H and Lori D… as a parent with a son and knowing that he has had friends in the hospital at all hours of the day and night due to non-fatal and fatal accidents…wayward or not… if they are listed as your family member you should have the right to access information, however that being said, the parent should take the appropriate route and go to the MIM department and not take it upon themself to access the record. Now, if it was just to confirm the address..this is a standard operation for most health care workers to access. I see nothing wrong with this. We are even made to update and correct “bad address”- so to speak. Jail is too harsh…how many people need to be placed in jail for a “white collar” crime that we then have to pay for…jail is not the answer to these crimes! I believe she should have been re-instated and a corrective action should have been in place. I know that kids…will know patient information right from the patients room it gets out before it goes through the appropriate channels…so we might as well put everyone in jail! Right…is that the answer to everything??? Twitter, facebook, txtmsg, cell phones…even news reports get it out before any one of the health care workers….lets sensor everything and make it a police state…” This is the united states…we are over governed…

    Post a Reply
  9. I think many of you are missing the point. It is illegal to access the records of a family member, adult child or otherwise; period. She broke the law regardless of her beneficence. Suppose she viewed her husband’s records without authorization because she feared he had a brain tumor and wanted him to get healthcare expeditiously? An adult is an adult according to the law and we can’t make exceptions simply because they are family.

    Post a Reply
  10. As a Privacy Officer, I would have done the same thing, fired her. Just because you are an employee of a health care facility does not give you the right to snoop in medical records even if it is your family. As Elizabeth said, it is against the law to access records without authorization. If she is allowed to continue working, she will do it again, this time for another family member. What kind of excuse will she use then.

    Post a Reply
  11. I agree with Kim and Elizabeth. She has 30 years experience in Health Information and knew the regulations and consequences of her actions.

    Post a Reply
  12. UNLESS YOU ARE PROVIDING THE CARE FOR THE PATIENT, THERE IS NO REASON YOU SHOULD LOOK AT HIS OR HER INFORMATION. Besides, it doesn’t matter if the kid used her address, because she never would’ve known if she hadn’t looked at it illegally.

    Post a Reply
  13. Now that is that ladies child and if any of you had a child that you was worried about you would have done the same thing. And don’t get me wrong rules are rules and laws are laws, but at the same time that was a concerned mother. And the child should have never made a big deal out of the situation in the first place, because he should be glad he have a mother to worry about his well being. Plus, she put her job on the line to find out such infromation now that is what I call love.

    Kim

    Post a Reply
  14. I think there something going on here that’s much deeper than the violation of privacy laws. It’s pretty twisted that a grown man would punish his own mother for trying to keep tabs on him. So many people don’t have anyone looking out for them.

    Post a Reply
  15. I think the suspension was fair in this case. The women had accessioned a patients file without malicious intent, she did not use any of the private information (since the address was her own and not her sons).

    The statement that she had used private medical information to find him was erroneous, since she had stated that someone saw her son entering a residence, she sent him a card to that residence which is a 1 in 4 chance it was his residence.

    There was only the fact that she looked at a patients health record 8 times within the year, there was no address that was used, no appointment confrontations, nothing that the medical record could have been used in this case for her being fired.

    Post a Reply
    • I know someone who is an extern at Franciscan alliance collections she accessed her 11 year old sons medical record for seeing a test results since she couldn’t get a hold of the Dr nor hesrd nothing in 2 weeks she looked at it once. He had Medicaid so never was to change anything no harm intended however she was unaware it would violate HIPAA being was her son and wasn’t looking for any bills or to changef nothing. They sent her home and then said be up to school and another manager if she gets kicked off site and it would go on her record. She wants to know if she will ever be able to work in medical field now since this is here and if she will get kicked off site. She has 1 weeks and 2 days left she never had broke rules and definitely wouldn’t this one she is upset she is a 4.0 student honors society at school so this is affecting her bad.

      Post a Reply
    • I know someone who is an extern at Franciscan alliance collections she accessed her 11 year old sons medical record for seeing a test results since she couldn’t get a hold of the Dr nor hesrd nothing in 2 weeks she looked at it once. He had Medicaid so never was to change anything no harm intended however she was unaware it would violate HIPAA being was her son and wasn’t looking for any bills or to changef nothing. They sent her home and then said be up to school and another manager if she gets kicked off site and it would go on her record. She wants to know if she will ever be able to work in medical field now since this is here and if she will get kicked off site. She has 1 weeks and 2 days left she never had broke rules and definitely wouldn’t this one she is upset she is a 4.0 student honors society at school so this is affecting her bad.

      Post a Reply
  16. Oh come on guys where is the humanity she’s just wanted to access her own sons record to look forward for his future consequences what’s wrong in this. Could any one owns a pure family this just a waste of time

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *