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HIPAA Privacy Violation Reason for Whistle-Blower Testimony Erasure

The Florida Department of Corrections has scrubbed the name of an inmate from a video testimony provided by Doug Glisson; an inspector of the Department of Corrections’ Office of Inspector General, due to a HIPAA Privacy Rule violation, according to a news report in the Miami Herald.

Glisson is a DOC whistle-blower who has testified under oath of potentially negligent medical care, sabotaged investigations and criminal activity. He alleges that a number of HIPAA violation cases, which he give four specific examples in his video testimony; investigations have been sabotaged in order to protect the organization’s top officials.

In his testimony at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee’s March 10 meeting, he cited the name of an inmate in one the examples he provided in his testimony. The case in question concerned an inmate who died in hospital under “suspicious” circumstances. Glisson claims that the patient was “undergoing medical care” at Jefferson Correctional Institution, but no information relating to his medical condition was provided. He “started having seizures” and “wound up dying,” according to Glisson.

Because of the suspicious circumstances of the death, Glisson and his investigator thought that an investigation was warranted but he was told that he must close the case. Glisson was informed by the “upper management at the Office of Inspector General to close that criminal case.” He said that the reason provided was due to a “conversation he had had with the state attorney’s office and that we would run that case administratively.”  The cause of the man’s death was finally returned as being due to “natural causes.”

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Testimony Violated HIPAA Privacy Rule

The Department of Corrections has taken some time, but it has finally decided to scrub the name of the patient from the testimony as it was deemed to have violated the HIPAA privacy Rule. Under the Privacy Rule, Protected Health Information must not be divulged without prior authorization being obtained from the patient. Personally identifiable information (the patients name – as provided by Glisson) together with health information (seizures, and the fact he was undergoing medical care at a particular medical facility) cannot be disclosed without permission.

A spokesperson for the DOC, McKinley Lewis, said that by naming the inmate, Glisson violated HIPAA Privacy Rules. The video testimony was then provided to The Florida Channel with a request to remove the name at the specified time codes. According to Lewis, “The department notified The Florida Channel that some of the information released violated federal HIPAA law.’’ He went on to say “We have a responsibility to protect the personal health information of all inmates and staff.”

The audio of the video has now been amended and reads: “In November of 2012, there was an inmate named (XXXXXX) at Jefferson Correctional Institute. (XXXXXX) was undergoing medical care at the facility for ongoing medical issues. (XXXXXX) started having trouble in November where he sought medical help and in fact started having seizures. (XXXXXX) wound up dying in November 2012 at that facility.

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.