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Should an RN discuss with HR, legal and her unit manager how a facility can better handle hearsay HIPAA breaches after being targeted herself?

Friday April 4, 2014
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Dear Nancy,

I was contacted by our privacy officer and quizzed about a potential HIPAA breach on my part. All very confusing as they could not tell me much, but gave me a verbal warning: if I happen to have any relatives in the facility to stay away. They did tell me there was no breach on my part and the accusation
was hearsay.

What I learned happened is I am dealing with a hostile relative. I also know the RN who filed the report did not do things well, but I am afraid to follow up on this situation. This situation could have been avoided and I believe education needs to be implemented to avoid this type of thing from happening to staff in the future I am considering seeking legal counsel and then approaching our human resources, legal and privacy departments and my unit manager to discuss it.


Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Gwen,

The situation you describe is rather mysterious in relation to you being the identified as a target of a potential HIPAA breach. Your ideas to clarify this situation as it pertains to you are good ones. Your thought about seeking legal advice from a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state at the onset who will represent you in this situation would be necessary.

The attorney will need to know all of the factual details surrounding this matter, so it will be important that you be truthful about any family dynamics that might affect this allegation. Bring with you, to the initial consultation, any documentation you have surrounding the incident. Your employer's HIPAA policy as adopted in the employee handbook would also be important for the attorney to review.

As may be the case with your situation, family issues can be played out in strange ways when one is hospitalized. For one, the hospitalized family member has a new cast of characters to utilize in his or her playbook to support accusations that have nothing to do with what really went on but rather serve his or her hidden agendas against a family member.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.