Washington Health System Suspends A number of Workers for Incorrect PHI Access

June 23, 2018


After the alleged incorrect retrieving of patient health records by workers, Washington Health System has taken the decision to suspend a number of workers while the secrecy breach is probed.

Although it has not been verified how many workers have been suspended, Washington Health System VP of strategy and clinical facilities, Larry Pantuso, released a report to the Observer Reporter showing about a dozen workers have been suspended, though, at this phase, no workers have been dismissed for incorrect medical record access.

The secrecy breaches are supposed to link to the death of a worker of the WHS Neighbor Health Center. Kimberly Dollard, 57, was killed when an uncontrolled car driven by Chad Spence, 43, bumped into the building where she worked. Spence and one other person were admitted to the hospital after suffering damages in the mishap.

Pantuso didn’t verify that this was the occurrence that provoked the workers to access patients’ medical files, even though he did verify that the supposed incorrect access linked to a “high profile case.”

The retrieving of medical records without any lawful work reason for doing so is a breach of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA simply allows the retrieving of PHI by workers for cure, payment, or healthcare jobs.

Any healthcare worker found to have infringed HIPAA Laws faces punitive action which can involve suspension, cessation, loss of license and, possibly, criminal allegations.

There have been numerous recent instances where workers have been dismissed peeping on the medical files of high profile patients.

In February 2018, 13 workers of the Medical University of South Carolina were dismissed for HIPAA breaches after they retrieved the medical files of patients without approval, several of whom retrieved the medical files of high profile patients.

Among the most recent actions taken versus a healthcare worker for a HIPAA breach was taken by the New York nursing board’s Office for Professional Discipline. Martha Smith-Lightfoot was given a list of patients before leaving her service at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) to take up a new position at Greater Rochester Neurology. Smith-Lightfoot gave that list to her new boss and patients were communicated in an attempt to seek business.

Smith-Lightfoot initialed an approval order with the nursing board confessing the violation and had her license to practice banned for one year, got a continued suspension for one more year, and three years of trial when she comes back to practice.

Prying on medical files is likely to be found since logs are produced when health files are retrieved. Those logs are regularly verified and if incorrect PHI access is discovered it is likely to lead to termination and will make it hard to get future work in healthcare.