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Georgia Hospital Accused of Falsification of COVID-19 Test Results Suspends Employees Over Suspected HIPAA Breach

Landmark Hospital of Athens in Georgia has suspended three employees who are suspected of accessing, copying or disclosing patient records. The potential HIPAA breach may be linked to a lawsuit that was filed against the 42-bed hospital on June 22, 2020 by four nurses who allege the hospital has been falsifying COVID-19 test results in what they describe as a “COVID-19 coverup”.

The nurses allege that five of their patients had tested positive for COVID-19 after displaying symptoms and after the positive result, the hospital administrator reordered COVID-19 tests for those patients. The nurses allege that for the retests, samples were intentionally collected without following proper sampling protocols. They claim that this was done deliberately to reduce the chance of a positive test result.

The nurses, who are named as Jane Doe and John Doe in the lawsuit, are seeking immediate court intervention “to stop the hospital concealing and mishandling a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.” The nurses also want the hospital to temporarily stop receiving and discharging patients. The nurses also seek damages as they claim they have been unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19.

The nurses allege the falsification of COVID-19 test results allowed patients to be discharged, freeing up beds for other patients so the hospital could continue to bill Medicare for services and maintain patient volume.

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The lawsuit alleges the patients who had tested positive were not isolated from other patients and no PPE was provided to nurses treating those patients. They also claim that the air conditioning system was not working for the period of time the patients were in the facility. Mobile air conditioners are used which take air from patient rooms and blow it into corridors, which they claim increased the risk of other patients and staff members contracting COVID-19. The air conditioning system uses dry hydrogen peroxide to reduce the risk of contaminants being circulated.

The nurses claim they voiced their concerns with Landmark’s administration, but no action was taken hence the legal action. They allege the actions of the hospital has created a public health risk, and placed patients and hospital employees and their families at risk.

Marie Saylor, CEO of Landmark Hospital of Athens, issued a statement saying the hospital will “vigorously investigate allegations and defend our hospital and its staff against misleading and false claims… we have always made the safety and well-being of our patients and staff our top priority, and continue to do so as we manage the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.