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Scrub Nurse Fired for Photographing Employee-Patient’s Genitals

A scrub nurse who took photographs of a patient’s genitals and shared the images with colleagues has been fired, while the patient, who is also an employee at the same hospital, has filed a lawsuit seeking damages for the harm caused by the incident.

The employee-patient was undergoing incisional hernia surgery at Washington Hospital. She alleges in a complaint filed in Washington County Court, that while she was unconscious, a scrub nurse took photographs of her genitals on a mobile phone and shared the photographs with co-workers.

Photographing patients without their consent is a violation of HIPAA Rules, and one that can attract a significant financial penalty. Last Year, New York Hospital settled a HIPAA violation case with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Rights and paid a financial penalty of $2.2 million. In that case, a television crew had been authorized to film in the hospital, but consent from the patients in the footage had not been obtained.

In the Washington Hospital HIPAA breach, the patient, identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe, claims she became aware that photos had been shared the day after her operation. She also claims the scrub nurse showed her the photographs that had been taken. Horrified at the violation of her privacy, she reported the incident to her supervisors. The scrub nurse was subsequently fired for the HIPAA violation.

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However, in the lawsuit Jane Doe claims that was not the end of the matter. She said, taking action against the scrub nurse resulted in her “being treated like the wrongdoer, not the victim.” As a result of the complaint she was “forced to endure harassment, humiliation and backlash,” and “extreme hostility” at work. That harassment has allegedly continued outside the hospital.

Jane Doe was given two weeks of paid leave as a healing period, and returned to her unit in the same position. However, she suffered migraines, anxiety, and insomnia as a result of the incident. She requested further paid leave of 3 months, as recommended by her physician, but the request was denied. She subsequently took unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act and was terminated in October.

The lawsuit names the hospital, a doctor who was in the operating room but failed to stop the scrub nurse from taking photos and did not report the incident, and several other workers at the hospital. Jane Doe seeks in excess of $75,000 in damages for the “severe physical, emotional and psychological stress” caused. The patient’s husband is also a plaintiff and is suing for loss of consortium.

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.