'At least 50' hospital employees fired over Jussie Smollett medical records access

The consequences deriving from the allegedly false hate crime report of Jussie Smollett are vast.  The expression "collateral damage" is appropriate.

Whatever his fate, now that he was written out of his part on a TV show and indicted for 16 felony counts related to his allegedly false reporting of a hate crime, dozens of other people are suffering career catastrophes derived from the scandal's aftermath.

At least 50 employees may have been fired from Northwestern Memorial Hospital for accessing the medical profile and records of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett without authorization, sources with knowledge of the situation said.

One of those employees — identified simply as Susan, to protect her identity — said that with one click of her mouse, she was fired from her job as a surgical nurse last week.

"Simply put, it was just morbid curiosity," she said.  "I went into the charting system and started to search his name."

"I clicked just once," Susan said.  "I never clicked into his chart."

Susan said she was fired on the spot for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, that sets standards for patient privacy and confidentiality.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports on other hospital employees telling similar tales:

The Northwestern Memorial Hospital employee thought nothing of it when a coworker walked over to her desk and asked if "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett had been admitted under an alias.

Now, the employee — an administrator with an advanced degree — is out of a job, after she was told she'd inappropriately accessed Smollett's records, violating hospital rules.

The administrator, who didn't want her name used, told the Chicago Sun-Times she was stunned by her dismissal — and she suspects others may have been fired or disciplined for doing the same thing.

"I didn't get any information about [Smollett].  I never clicked on his name and entered his record," said the former administrator.

The haste with which the firings allegedly took place is curious.  Of course, Smollett deserves the same level of respect for his medical privacy as everyone else.  But the real problem, in my view, is the scandalous ease with which any American's confidential medical records are available to literally millions of other Americans — not just credentialed medical professionals like doctors and nurses, but comparatively low-level administrative people who can pull up records with a mouse click or two.  With Obamacare forcing doctors to fill out forms on computers every time they see a patient, accessibility to medical records online is greater than ever.

If you think your private medical records are secure, you are living in a dreamland.

Because of the enormous media attention showered on Smollett, huge amounts of police, prosecutorial, and other official resources were expended on the case, even as unsolved murders continued to pile up in Chicago.  The families of the victims of those unsolved murders are suffering all the more thanks to the resources drained by the investigation, and now prosecution of his alleged hoax.

Now Northwestern Hospital in Chicago will have to recruit, interview, train, and break in "at least 50" new employees to replace those who have been fired.  Typically, this process costs many thousands of dollars per employee, meaning that hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra costs have been loaded onto the hospital, money that must be recovered from insurance companies, Medicare, and individuals paying their own hospital bills.

It is quite apparent that with so many employees casually violating HIPAA, training on the importance of respecting medical privacy is inadequate.  The fired employees should have known better, but they didn't.

Coming soon: firings from the Chicago Police Department over leaks to the media:

Chicago police have opened an internal investigation into leaks in the investigation of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's reported attack, police confirmed Thursday. 

"I would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation," Sergeant Rocco Alioto, a CPD spokesperson, said in a statement.  "As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities." 

If Smollett's case had not been in an intense spotlight, I doubt that the people accessing his private data would ever have been noticed.

Hat Tip: Peter von Buol

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