Prime Healthcare and Shasta Regional still don't get HIPAA?

Remember the case of a patient whose PHI was disclosed to media by Shasta Regional Center and Prime Healthcare? If you don’t, just search this site for “Prime Healthcare,” and you’ll find a slew of coverage, including a $95,000 fine by California and a $275,000 settlement with OCR after they stubbornly insisted they had not violated HIPAA.

This week, Prime Healthcare and Shasta Regional Center issued a press release concerning the civil suit filed by the patient:

Prime Healthcare Services and Shasta Regional Medical Center announced today that a Superior Court jury vindicated the facility and its executives in a civil patient privacy case orchestrated by the SEIU-UHW as part of its corporate campaign against Prime Healthcare.

The case regarded an alleged violation of patient privacy rights at Shasta Regional Medical Center. The plaintiff had previously divulged her own medical records to the media, which printed and broadcast the information. The plaintiff’s daughter testified that a reporter showed up at a union meeting she attended with her mother and asked whether anyone wanted to share their medical information from Shasta Regional. At the behest of the union, the plaintiff agreed.

Prime Healthcare and Shasta Regional accurately contended that by this agreement, the patient had implicitly waived her privacy rights by giving the information to the media, which publicized it in newspapers across California and on television. A later review of the plaintiff’s medical records indicated that Shasta Regional personnel followed all state and federal guidelines related to patient care.

“A jury reviewed the facts and concluded that there was no public disclosure of private information, no violation of the plaintiff’s privacy rights and no harm to the patient by any of the executives, hospital, or Prime Healthcare,” said Troy Schell, general counsel. “This was part of SEIU-UHW’s malicious corporate campaign against the company and hospital. It’s a travesty that the union continues to focus on lies and corporate campaigns, wasting millions of dollars, rather than what is best for healthcare and communities. Prime Healthcare and Shasta Regional Medical Center remains committed to protecting patient rights, providing the highest quality of patient care and serving the community.”

That “vindication” has nothing to do with they violated HIPAA, of course, as there’s no private cause of action under HIPAA, even though we now have one case where HIPAA was used as the standard of care in deciding a privacy lawsuit.  So to repeat, lest Prime Healthcare and Shasta Regional continue with their b.s.:

A patient can choose to divulge their information to the media. That does not given the covered entity the right to disclose their information under HIPAA. It really was – and is – a no-brainer, which is why although they may claim vindication, both the state and federal government pursued charges against them.

Without the transcript of the jury trial, it’s hard to know how the jury could possibly conclude that there was no violation of privacy when both the state and federal government had already determined that not only was there a violation, but the entities’ conduct was so severe that it warranted prosecution and/or a monetary penalty.

Can a state revoke a facility’s license if they willfully violate HIPAA and then continue to insist they’ve done nothing wrong? Probably not, but it’s a thought.

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