Brown County Supervisors Meet to Discuss Potential HIPAA Privacy Violation

Supervisors from Brown County, Wis., are considering the position of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME), Jeff Jansen, after he has been accused of committing HIPAA privacy violations on multiple occasions, within 6-months of taking up the position.

One incident in particular is at the center of the current discussion. The former CME – Al Klimek – is alleged to have participated in an email discussion with a local funeral director about the condition of a body, even though he had retired and had no legitimate access to that information. In the email he made a reference to a blood sample and its location and also included information about organ donation. This information was allegedly shared using an insecure medium and the data constituted PHI. However, what is of more concern is how Klimek obtained that information.

Jansen is seen as “a protégé of the former Medical Examiner”, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, and he has been accused of divulging PHI and breaching HIPAA Rules, a claim he vehemently denies. His supporters have said the accusations represent a “witch hunt” by individuals who dislike him.

It is currently being argued that a HIPAA Privacy Rule violation occurred as PHI was disclosed without prior authorization being obtained from the patient. A Supervisor from Green Bay’s West Side, Patrick Evans, said “I’m concerned about why our medical examiner’s office is providing information to someone not employed with the department.”

Both Klimek and Jansen claim that no HIPAA Rules were violated, as while a body was discussed, no personally identifiable information was disclosed. They maintain it would not have been possible to have identified the victim from the conversation and the conversation constituted “small talk”.

According to Klimek, “Nothing about whether the person was male or female, no date of birth, no age, no nothing.”

The issue was recently discussed at the County Board’s Executive Committee, where seven members met in a session closed to the public. Jansen was invited to attend to discuss the matter although no information about what was discussed was issued to the media.

The matter has not yet been resolved. The committee will be meeting again on May 20 in a second closed session to determine what action, if any, should be taken.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.