Should I work toward having my hospital coworker fired?

One of my current coworkers is the worst worker I’ve ever had to work with on a daily basis. I will call her Satanette. She has been with the department a year, and the other ten of us in the department have all come to realize over a period of months just how inneffective she is, and well as psychologically unstable, and we’ve learned"Hey, it wasn’t just me that thought she was nuts! You too, huh?" We’ve had to produce all these writeen rules of the workplace, that we didn’t need written down before Satanette, to try and make her responsible for getting at least some things done.

My boss has reportedly made one attempt so far to sit down with her and let her know that she wasn’t pulling her weight, which I was not privy too, but that didn’t work out as she had hoped. Satanette told me that the boss thought the job was overstressiing her, and that she should reduce her hours. What my boss tried to tell her, I found out later, is that she could no longer work overtime at will on these little self-described office emergencies anymore.

Satanette did something today that makes her subject to immediate termination, should an official complaint be filed. She disclosed, to me, information about the medical status of her sister-in-law, who works in the same department as both of us. The hospital privacy rules, developed in response to federal HIPPA patient information privacy, state that someone can be fired for this on the first offense without advance notice. We have all been briefed on these rules, even though we aren’t directly involved in patient care. Even the janitors are briefed on these rules. Also, the sister in law complained to me personally just yesterday about other instances of Satanette blabbing stuff about her condition.

I don’t recall being told that I have an ethical obligation to report a witnessing a breach of confidentiality, though after thinking about it for a day it seems to me lke I do. I’m also not sure whether to report this only to my boss, or also to the victim of the disclosure, to give her the option to make an official complaint. Odds are the sister in law wouldn’t make a complaint against her own relative, but that’s not for me to decide. My guess is that my boss would not order an immediate dismissal; as bad as Satanette is, she’s one of only 3 of us who work a 40 hour work, and she does fill the “warm body in the chair” job reqiurement. But I’m the prime victim of Satanette’s incompetence, and I’m trying to decide whether to actually push for getting rid of her.

I’ve never fired anyone, or even made any kind of official complaint against a coworker. Satanette just signed a mortgage last week, but I end everyone else (including her sister in law) is real tired of this woman.

Turn her in.

A HIPAA violation can be costly not only for her, but it’ll be a black eye for the hospital. At the hospital where I work, we have an ethics department where we can report these things anonymously. It is drilled into us to protect the patient’s privacy at all costs.

What Mr. Blue Sky said. There should be an anonymous reporting system for these kinds of things.

Whatever you do, DO NOT tell the sister-in-law. It’s up to the hospital to make that call, not you or us.


This is one of those beautiful instances in which the right thing to do and the deliciously satisfying, seemingly unethical, vengeful thing to do … are the SAME thing!

I won’t make the call on what’s done to her if I report this, but if I do complain it will need to have my name attached. I can’t say as I like the idea of anonymous reporting in general, and in this case I don’t see how it is possible. As I am both the witness and the recipient of the confidential information, there are no other resources for the hospital to investigate. There is no other trail or record or witness. I don’t see how an employer can make a termination on the word of a single anonymous unsubstantiated witness, nor do I think they should be able to. I certainly would think it unjust if I lost my job and was told that.

Get her fired and give me her job. I can fill a chair 40 hours a week, just ask anyone.

I’d stay out of it if I were you.

Boyo - is she privvy to the information on her sister in law because of what she has access to on the job, or simply because they are related and it’s general family knowledge? If it’s the latter, that doesn’t really qualify as a HIPAA violation (depending on your Privacy Officer’s interpretation of the mandate, and/or unless she’s involved in direct patient care and the sister in-law has been her patient). As all of us who have had HIPAA become the bane of our existence know, a lot of it is open to interpretation. She may be guilty of nothing more than very poor judgement and betraying family confidence.
All the same, and maybe more importantly for your own sake, you may want to cover your ass by informing your superior that you are aware she is blabbing PHI (protected health information), but that you are not sure how she came to know the info - either through work access, or just being told at home.

This says it all. You’re not the first recipient of blabbermouth’s information if the sister-in-law is complaining to you about other instances. You can do one of three things, assuming that the breach is a result of medical treatment received by the sister-in-law at the facility and not just general information known among family members:

  1. Gently and/or subtly remind sister-in-law that there is a policy about non-disclosure and leave it up to her to make the complaint (or offer to anonymously do it for her, thereby remaining forever in her debt). After all, she obviously knows the identity of the culprit and is theoretically perfectly capable of telling her to zip her lip.

  2. Go to your boss confidentially and let him know the scoop and let him make the call.

  3. Do nothing.

I worked in a hospital umpteen years ago where we had a similar policy. I can’t recall exactly, but it seems to me there was an honor system deal where if you knew of someone revealing medical information, you were supposed to report it. Speaking up in this kind of situation is never easy, but if I was a patient and some butwad was revealing my medical information, I’d certainly want someone to take a stand and report them, job performance qualities notwithstanding. If this woman has no qualms about freely discussing her own family member’s medical conditions, then she shouldn’t be anywhere near patient information.

(And who cares if the woman just signed a mortgage? Her personal situation should never enter into your decision to do the right thing.)

Ah, but he’s in it already.

I was going to say essentially this same thing. How she came to know these details is critical. If Sis-in-law told her at a family function or whatever, I don’t think it qualifies. If she looked the information up in the hospitals computer she is in violation.

I can talk about my families health to others, sure it’s rude and probably unethical, but if I came across this information the same way a non-hospital employee would, HIPAA doesn’t apply. If she used her position at the hospital to gain access to protected health information for non-job related reasons, she is in violation, regardless what she does with it from there. It’s all in how she came to know the info.

BTW I am a network admin/net security guy for a small-to-mid size hospital. I am not the privacy officer, but I am one of her favorite people to bother.

And on typing that, maybe you should talk to your privacy officer. They would know your organization’s preferred interpretation of some pretty vague regulations.

But we’re not just talking about hopital rules, we’re talking about the law. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is a law and if this woman has violated it she must be reported, just as you would report her if you caught her embezzeling. It’s not just that she’s a gossip, it’s that she could open the hospital up to serious liability if they find that she obtained this information illegally. And because of that, I think it’s the hospital’s call to make, but they can’t make it if you don’t inform them.

I don’t think you have any choice but to report her. If your boss then deems that her big mouth didn’t really violate the law and doesn’t pursue the issue, then the monkey’s on his back. Good luck!

I don’t know how she knew, and I don’t think it matters. If I visit a friend who tells me details of a medical problem as a friend, then I leave and tell it to my coworkers, then I am just as guilty of violating confidentiality as if I were the primary care ohysician – unless my friend gives me explicit permission to tell whoever I want. If I overhear a discussion between two nurses about someone’s condition, then they’ve broken the rules by holding their discussion in a place where others can hear, and if I pass the info along, then I too am guilty.

Where I work, I’m pretty sure there is such an anonymous system in place for people to report HIPAA violations. The “compliance hotline” or something. At my employee orientation, they told us a story of a hospital that was fined a huge amount of money for failure to comply (I forget which one) so it was really, really important to report any violations you might see on the job. And I don’t even work in a hospital (it’s a health professions university with its own hospital system, and I work for the academic part).

That sounds like a good idea. See what your supervisor thinks, if you trust him/her.

I think I’m with Woodstock on this one in that I think it would be pretty tenuous with the current information to determine if a HIPAA violation occurred. Do you want to put your name out there with a tenuous complaint? If so, then fine, do it, but be sure to be prepared that Satanette stays and knows you turned her in and you are labeled as somewhat of a tattletale. Fair, probably not. Probable with the situation as currently presented, yes.

I hardly think you need to be worried about being labeled as a “tattletale” by Satanette if the woman is blabbing confidential medical information about a family member.

When I said tattletale, I meant by managment. Sometimes, even if you are in the right, making a complaint about a coworker labels you as such. Depends on the job, but I’ve seen it a lot in hospitals. (I defend hospitals for a living).

Why are people so afraid to stand up for policies??? That’s why they’re there! Let’s see, hospital gets fined out the wazoo for policy violations. Hospital finds out Boyo knew about violation but didn’t report it. Boyo gets labeled something far worse than a “tattletale”. Gimme a break!

If you’re afraid of what other people, including Satanette, will think about you if you report Satanette for blabbing, then everyone’s right, you shouldn’t say a word. If you want to do the right thing because its the right thing, then you won’t give a crap about what other people think.

It’s not something I’ll need to worry about with my own supervisor, but it may be an issue if the complaint goes any farther up the ladder. After thinking about it again today, I’ve decided to bring it up with my supervisor, with who I have a very good relationship. I talked to 3 of my coworkers about the situation, one of whom had also been told the same information by Satanette, and that was the consensus view. We have a great deal of faith in our boss’s judgement. I’m about 99.5% certain that she will not summarily fire Satanette unless there was a groundswell demand from a large part of the staff. And I don’t think most of them are there yet.

One of the nurses reminded me of an incident in January in which I was sent to the emergency room with my blood pressure off the charts. Two of our nurses knew what my BP was because they had taken it and then walked me down to the ER. And it turns out, as most of the women in my department are nurses, they discussed it with an eye toward figuring out what could be wrong with me. And I believe this was all done with my best interests at heart, as I’ve said many times thar I have nine Moms at work. I am single, childless man in a department of me and 9 women, and every one of the women is married and has children. And I get more than my fair share of nagging about the evil cheeseburgers and the sneaky donuts lurking around me.

I would never dream of lodging my own complaint about what these women did, even though I have to admit I am bothered by it. The nurse who told the others about my BP suggested that I never asked them to be silent, and I replied that the default should be to be silent unless told otherwise.

While Satanette’s case has some important differences, I have to admit that this adds a certain grayness that I hadn’t perceived before. Is it possible to see a blur more sharply? What I perceive is that we are a community that shares information more freely among ourselves about ourselves than the rules contemplate. In a bureauocratic sense, it’s like we all have nukes we can throw to have people disciplined or fired, it we want to really screw someone, or the hospital itself, over. So maybe we need some cultural adjustment here, not selective executions.

I’ve been in this department nearly 3 years and I’m much more touchy-feely than I used to be. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think you’re doing the right thing Boyo - unfortunately when you work in healthcare today, you always have to be aware of the CYA (cover your ass) factor. If someone else files a complaint, you will have yourself covered because you went to the boss and made her aware of the situation, without making a big stink about it. What she chooses to do with the info is now on her.