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Shark Attack Victim Photos Put Hospital Employees in Hot Water

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 26, 2010

Martin Memorial Medical Center in Stuart, FL, has disciplined several employees for taking cell phone pictures of a shark attack victim who later died, and has asked anyone with copies of the photos to destroy them.

The disciplinary actions included written warnings, suspension, and demotion to loss of position, but nobody was fired, the hospital said in a media release. "Ultimately, we have determined that these inappropriate actions were taken by good people who exercised poor judgment," said the hospital in a prepared statement.

Martin Memorial began an internal investigation after hospital officials were told that employees may have violated HIPAA privacy laws involving Stephen Schafer, who died after a Feb. 3 shark attack at Stuart Beach. The hospital said that Schafer's family has been apprised of the privacy breach throughout the investigation.

"Our investigation revealed that cell phones were used to take photographs of Mr. Schafer's injuries by individuals who were in the emergency department at that time," the hospital statement said.

"Because hospital emergency departments are extremely busy, often filled with a variety of individuals—ranging from patients, visitors, physicians, staff, volunteers, students, fire-rescue personnel, and law enforcement—we made a concerted effort to complete a comprehensive investigation and sought as much information as possible from a variety of sources."

"Out of respect for the Schafer family we have asked that all individuals involved in this incident destroy or eliminate any remaining photos and would ask the same of anyone in this community who may happen to come across a photo," the statement read.

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