Commentary: It's time for California and HHS to do a serious smackdown on "jokes" that invade privacy (update 1)

It seems like only last month that I reported on a lawsuit stemming from a practical joke played on a patient/co-worker by a surgeon and hospital staff. Oh wait, it was just last month, and it involved Torrance Memorial Medical Center. No wonder I had a deja vu experience reading this report today by Barbara Wallace involving Sonora Regional Medical Center:

While he was anesthetized for surgery, a hospital worker claims in court, co-workers put obscene temporary tattoos near his penis, painted his fingernails, made up his face like a woman and posted photos of it all on a hospital bulletin board.

John Ruth sued Sonora Regional Medical Center and its corporate parent, Adventist Health System/West, in Placer County Court. He also sued John Does 1-50.

Ruth, who no longer works for the defendants, seeks punitive damages for constructive termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, civil rights violations, negligent supervision and negligent retention.

Read more on Courthouse News. There seems to be a lot more to this story as Wallace reports the complaint alleges the staff’s “acts were designed to humiliate him based on his perceived sexual orientation and based upon his gender.”

It’s not clear to me whether Ruth has sought to have people charged criminally for any hate crime – or whether this has even been reported to HHS. Has anyone been fired over this incident? If so, who, and for what reason?

PHIprivacy.net has reached out to the plaintiff’s lawyer, and I hope to get more information on this case.

Having covered breaches for the past decade or longer, it’s clear to me there have been too many breaches of confidentiality or privacy because employees think something is funny and want to share it with others on Facebook or within their work setting. Failing to treat patients with respect for their dignity – including co-workers  – is a violation of our obligation to Do No Harm.  Telling yourself that it’s funny and your colleagues will enjoy something is simply no excuse at all for violating confidentiality and privacy.

It.Has.To.Stop.

Update 1: I’ve uploaded a copy of the complaint here (pdf) with a copy of the filed cover page here (pdf).  Unlike the Torrance Memorial case, this doesn’t read as just as a prank in poor taste, but as something allegedly much more malicious.  The plaintiff’s attorney, Andrew T. Ryan, Esq. informs PHIprivacy.net that no complaints have been filed as yet with state or federal agencies.

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