Family Sues Hospital, ABC for Violating Privacy with Reality Show

The family of a man who was filmed moments before his death by a reality show camera crew is continuing to seek legal action against the hospital and the network that airs the show.

When the family of Mark Chanko learned that he died shortly after being taken to the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, they were not told that an ABC news crew was in the hospital filming future episodes of the popular reality show “NY Med.” Chanko had been hit by a New York City sanitation truck and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, according to an article produced by the New York Times and Pro Publica.

ABC’s camera crew was in the ER room where Chanko was being treated and filmed medical personnel while they attended to Chanko. When an episode featuring Chanko’s case eventually aired, 16 months later, Chanko’s wife, Anita, was watching and was shocked to find that she could identify her husband as the individual being treated because she could hear his voice and recognized his clothing. His face was blurred out for television.

“I hear them saying his blood pressure is falling. I hear them getting out the paddles and then I hear them saying, ‘OK, are you ready to pronounce him?'” Anita told reporter Charles Ornstein.

She also recognized the trauma surgeon who treated her husband and recognized the private ER waiting room where the surgeon delivered the bad news, even though neither she nor her family members were filmed. Both the hospital and ABC admitted that they did not seek permission to film or air the encounter with Chanko’s family.

 

HIPAA vs. Journalism

Although the state issued a citation to the hospital for violating Chanko’s privacy, members of the Chanko family filed complaints with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the network, the hospital, and the surgeon, and sued for damages. In the complaint, Kenneth Chanko, Mark’s son, said the “NY Med” episode caused “great emotional distress and psychological harm.”

According to the news report, an appellate court dismissed the case but the Chankos are pushing for that determination to be reviewed.

In legal filings uncovered by Pro Publica, the hospital argues that in accordance with state law, “that the statutory right of privacy… is limited to living persons and is extinguished upon death.” The network, ABC, maintains that the film crew is under the auspices of the network’s news department and is protected by the first amendment.

But privacy advocates and emergency physicians disagree. The American College of Emergency Physicians told Ornstein that it opposes “the filming for public viewing of emergency department patients or staff members except when they can give full informed consent prior to their participation.”

Joy Pritts, who until recently was the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT’s top privacy chief, disagrees.

“Taken to its logical conclusion, what they’re saying is you can invite anyone in, and unless the patient objects at that very moment, there’s no violation of the patient’s privacy,” Pritts told Pro Publica. “That’s crazy.”

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