The Florida Department of Corrections has taken the decision to remove the name of an inmate from a testimony provided by a whistle-blower; the reason provided was to prevent a witness testimony privacy rule violation.
Witness Testimony Privacy Rule Violation Prevented
The potential HIPAA breach came about after Doug Glisson, a whistle-blower gave a video testimony under oath at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee’s March 10 meeting in which he testified of incidents of negligence by the from the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC).
Glisson is an Inspector of the Department of Corrections’ Office of Inspector General, and has also alleged criminal activity has occurred and gave evidence that claims investigations were frequently sabotaged by the DOC to serve the needs of the top officials in the organization.
However, while providing examples of crimes and sabotage, Glisson mentioned an inmate by name; that had “died in hospital under suspicious circumstances.” He divulged that the individual had undergone “medical care” at Jefferson Correctional Institution and while the specifics of the patient’s treatment were not mentioned, Glisson did say that the inmate “started having seizures” and “wound up dying.” The information was provided as an example of when an investigation was sabotaged. Glisson said that at the time he believed an investigation into the suspicious cause of death was warranted but his superiors decided to “run the case administratively” and eventually closed the case with a verdict of death from natural causes.
Potential HIPAA Breach Avoided
The inmate is now deceased, and the information provided, which does constitute PHI, along with a personal identifier (his name) would potentially be a breach of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s Privacy Rule. If permission to disclose that information was provided by the inmate prior to the testimony being provided there would be no witness testimony privacy rule violation. However, permission was not obtained from the patient.
The DOC ruled, after some deliberation, that the Privacy Rule would indeed be breached by allowing the video testimony to be entered into the court record. According to McKinley Lewis, a spokesperson for the Florida DOC, “The department notified The Florida Channel that some of the information released violated federal HIPAA law.’’ He also said he informed them “We have a responsibility to protect the personal health information of all inmates and staff.”
The Florida Channel then doctored the video to remove the inmate’s names. The remainder of the video testimony remains the same, only the inmate’s name has been erased from the audio recording ensuring. This, it is hoped, will ensure a HIPAA Privacy breach is avoided.