A number of employees at a Chicago-area hospital have been fired for violating hospital policies related to inappropriate access of Jussie Smollett’s patient files, according to local news sources.
Many of the employees of Northwestern Memorial Hospital say they are innocent of any wrongdoing, WBBM reported, citing anonymous sources and employees from the hospital.
According to sources who spoke to the station, 60 or more employees lost their jobs over the incident, although the hospital has not confirmed that.
Smollett was treated in the emergency room of Northwestern on Jan. 29, the day he claimed he was assaulted by two men while walking in a Chicago neighborhood around 2:00 a.m. The actor claimed that in addition to racial and homophobic insults, he was beaten, a rope was put around his neck and a chemical was poured over him.
After a police investigation into the alleged incident, Smollett was charged with filing a false police report after staging the attack. On Thursday, he was indicted on 16 felony counts.
WBBM quoted former hospital employees who said they were fired even though they had never accessed Smollett’s records.
Others said they did have legitimate access to the records but were still terminated.
“It’s devastating. It’s humiliating,” one fired employee said. “I had told them on several occasions that I did not enter the records and I didn’t understand how having those names on the screen is my entering the records.”
However, WMAQ, another Chicago station, quoted one employee who admitted accessing the records out of “morbid curiosity.” The former employee’s name was withheld.
The Chicago Sun-Times quoted an unnamed administrator who said she was fired for discussing with a co-worker whether Smollett had been admitted under an assumed name.
The hospital has declined to comment about the firings, saying it’s an issue involving personnel as well as HIPAA regulations.
Attorney Erin Jackson, who does not represent the hospital, said that if records have been wrongfully accessed, it gets complicated quickly.
“At some point they’ll have to report the breach to the Department of Health and Human Services, and at some point they also need to tell Jussie that his records were accessed in an unauthorized way,” she told WBBM.
Jackson said HIPAA laws are very clear.
“HIPAA has a requirement that people only have access to the minimum necessary information to do their jobs, so if they’re not involved in treating him, they shouldn’t have access to even his name,” she said. “The consequences are grave. We’re talking about huge fines, potentially criminal liability.”
She said hospitals need to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for breaches.
“Part of being a great medical center is being able to protect your patients’ privacy, and if you can’t do that, you’re going to lose the trust of patients,” she said.
The hospital’s policy for violations of patients is spelled out in a document WBBM said it obtained.
“Level 3 violations, which include intentionally accessing a patient’s record for which he/she has no business purpose to do so are punishable by termination or legal action,” the station said, quoting the policy.
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