Monday, October 7, 2019

Hospital under fire for creating 'wall of shame' featuring patients with disabilities

by Justin Chan, In The Know

A Maine hospital is under fire after an investigation revealed that several employees had created a "wall of shame" that disclosed confidential medical records of patients with disabilities, the Bangor Daily News reports. Though the finding has been a matter of public record for several years, the newspaper recently shed light on it, raising serious privacy concerns.

According to a report by the Maine Human Rights Commission, a group of employees at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston publicized personal details regarding, among other things, patients' genitalia and bodily functions. MyKayla McCann, an employee at the hospital, reportedly first came across the "wall" — which had been labeled a "wall of fame" — in June 2015, when she opened a cabinet door on her first day as a laboratory technician assistant. At the time, the wall featured portions of medical records that "included information detailing patients' sexual activity, genital dysfunction, bowel movements, bodily odors, and other personal maladies," the report notes.

McCann, who has a disability herself and had been treated St. Mary's before, purportedly did not file a complaint at first because she did not want to be targeted. In April 2016, she took a leave of absence to seek treatment for her health condition at other hospitals. According to the report, she purposely did not want to be treated at St. Mary's, to avoid potential ridicule from her coworkers.

Still, McCann felt she was being mistreated upon her return to work, the report said. Three employees allegedly asked her inappropriate personal questions that hinted they knew something about her condition. Several months later, she lodged a complaint with her supervisor and reported the wall. Along with her complaint were pictures. According to the Daily News, one part of the wall had strips of paper with diagnoses on them. Some of them read, "Drooping eyelids," "butt wounds," "unable to insert tampon," and "sour smell of vagina with occasional itching."

When the supervisor returned to update McCann on the results of an investigation into her complaints, the supervisor reportedly confirmed her suspicions that several employees — between six and eight of them — had improperly accessed her medical records.

In December 2016, McCann contacted the hospital's director of resources after her supervisor allegedly failed to take further action in a timely manner.
"That is disability harassment and I want it to stop," she wrote in her email. "I also want illegal looking into my records to stop. What do I need to make this happen?"

By the end of the month, the hospital fired one of the employees and issued a warning to another, while refusing to name those who were responsible for looking into McCann's records. The commission's report further notes that there was a dispute regarding when the wall was actually taken down. While St. Mary's claims it took down the wall within weeks of learning of McCann's complaint, McCann said it was up through January 2017. That month, she resigned "due to the hostile work environment and the numerous HIPAA [otherwise known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] violations that I have repeatedly reported."

Under HIPAA, the names of patients and their medical records cannot be disclosed without permission.

The commission's report eventually determined that McCann did, indeed, suffer an abusive environment, and it also concluded that the hospital had taken an unacceptably long time to take corrective action, the Daily News reports.

Just a day after the newspaper broke the news of McCann's situation this week, the parent companies of St. Mary's issued a public apology to her on Thursday.

"We deeply regret that this situation occurred," Stephen Grubbs, president and CEO of Covenant Health, and Steven Jorgenson, president of St. Mary’s Health System, said in a written statement emailed to the Daily News. "[W]e sincerely apologize for the impact this situation has had on Ms. McCann."

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Hospital under fire for creating 'wall of shame' featuring patients with disabilities

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