Public safety, health privacy, and the ADA thrown into the mess

Tyler Lopez of reports:

The Kristen Parker case is highlighting one of the most common intersections in health care today: the constant balance between privacy laws and public health concerns.

26-year-old Kristen Parker worked as a surgical scrub technician at two Colorado medical facilities while infected with Hepatitis C, seeking no treatment, and potentially exposing thousands to the disease. She was fired from Rose Medical Center in Denver on April 22nd as administrators suspected she was stealing the powerful pain medication Fentanyl.

Parker started working at Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs May 4th and remained there until the state health department notified Audubon of an ongoing investigation on June 26th. A spokesman said the southern Colorado facility was never told before then that Parker was a carrier of hep C and also allegedly stealing drugs. A Rose staffer says that information would not be disclosed to other medical facilities because it is confidential. “We could have said here’s when she started, here’s when she left and she was terminated for cause,” said Dr. Donald Lefkowits, Emergency Room director at Rose. “I’m pretty sure that’s all we were actually legally able to say.”

“In both those situations it should’ve been public information,” said Dr. Heidi Borschler, Professor of health care administration of UC Denver. “Privacy does not and should not trump public safety.”

Hep C is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act in its amended form, in effect now since January 2009 as “an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”. Medical facilities were not notified Parker had taken a blood test in October of 2008 that indicated she may have hep C, even after being fired by Rose.

“But I think they should’ve been,” Borschler said. “Surgical scrub techs interact with the patient. This is a public safety issue, this is a quality of care issue. This is a perception of quality of care and safety for the public. And I think it’s a very important one.”

Parker was being held without bond on the drug-related charges, but not on any charges related to people she may have exposed to Hep C. A class action lawsuit against Parker and HealthOne was filed this week:

The lawsuit asks the court to designate the estimated 4,700 people who underwent surgery at Rose while Parker worked there as a class in the lawsuit. The court is also being asked to make sure all members of that class are properly notified of the need for testing.

Rose has sent letters to former patients advising them to get free testing for Hepatitis C.

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