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?