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UI Hospitals' Eavesdropping Allegations Spark PR Fiasco

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 21, 2011

The HR/PR fiasco at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics provides a good example of what can happen when a dumb idea goes viral.

If you haven’t heard the story, Google “baby monitor” and “University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics” and “employees” and “spying.” Condensed version: An office supervisor at a UI urology clinic apparently planted a baby monitor behind a bag of cotton balls on a shelf near the desks of some office workers to listen in on their conversations.

Tysen Kendig, UI’s vice president for Strategic Communications, said the health system had: “completed its internal investigation into the monitoring of staff interactions at UIHC.

Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken against two UIHC staff members involved in the incident. Details of that disciplinary action are considered confidential personnel information. The investigation also determined that no violations of HIPAA laws, which govern privacy of patient records, occurred as a result of this incident.”

The Associated Press reported that the office supervisor in the Urology Department, who’d been with UI for 19 years -- “abruptly left employment Thursday.”

Will the dismissal mark the end of the great baby monitor caper? It’s hard to say. John Stellmach, a mailman for the health system and AFSCME Local 12 president, told HealthLeaders Media that the incident has rattled employees. The alleged bugging – which is a misdemeanor crime in Iowa – was an isolated incident by a direct supervisor who used poor judgment, Stellmach says, but he’s more troubled by the initial response from hospital leaders, who he said tried to “sweep it under the rug” before the news media found out.

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