|Previous Co-worker shared my HIV status
Feb 25, 2012
I worked for a local hospital for 10+ years and left in good standing. A good friend of mine was still employed at the hospital billing office at the time this story occurred. One day I decided to share my HIV+ status with my friend. After I told her, she informed me that she already knew because the VP of hospital billing (her boss) had a meeting with her one day, pointed at two sheets of paper on the desk and said I thought you might want to know this before you move in with these guys, guys being me & my boyfriend at the time. The sheets of paper that she shared indicated that we were both HIV+. This has bothered me for a while now but I wasnt sure what action I could take Can I file a lawsuit? What are my rights? It has caused me great stress because I thought the VP of hospital billing was a friend, and this violated my confidentiality.
Response from Ms. Douaihy
Thank you for sharing your story. This is a serious violation of trust, whether or not it is a violation of law. To determine if the VP breached your confidentiality in a way that breaks the law, it is critical to know how she discovered your status. Federal privacy rules (HIPAA), and most state laws prohibit agents of certain âcovered entitiesâ from revealing your HIV status without your express permission. Hospitals and employers cannot share the HIV-related info you disclosed to them through a written release unless you give written consent. There are very limited exceptions to this general rule. This means that the VP impermissibly breached your confidentiality if she found out your status in her official capacity in the billing department after you authorized release of your info to the hospital. This holds true whether you authorized release to the hospital because you got medical treatment there OR because the hospital was your employer. Conversely, the VP probably did not break the law if you confided your status to her on a personal level, and never included the hospital on a written HIV release form. This is because, generally speaking, friends who find out your HIV info absent an HIV release form are not mandated to keep your confidentiality. If the facts bear out and you are interested in pursuing a legal remedy, you should reach out to your local HIV/AIDS supportive organization. They may be able to recommend a private attorney with expertise in confidentiality and disclosure. You should also be aware that if your state or locality has an HIV confidentiality law, there will be time frame you must act within. To learn more about specific confidentiality laws available, if any, in your jurisdiction, check out the terrific resources available from the Legal Action Center and The Center for HIV Law and Policy. Lastly, if you decide a lawsuit is not an option but you still want something to be done, you can try and file a formal grievance against the VP to the hospitalâs Human Resources department. Most large institutions, especially those serving the public, have internal grievance procedures or an official ombudsman who handles complaints against staff. Considering the person in question is a Vice President, the powers that be at the hospital may want to know about her unethical conduct. Good luck!
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