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Kennedy Sues Nurses, Hospital After Scuffle

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, January 22, 2013

A part of me wants to avoid further commentary about this case because it is, as one of my former editors used to say, "cats in a bag:" A back-and-forth struggle that's messy and ugly and where no one really wins.

Over the past 11 months, the he-said, she-said war of words between the two sides has somehow become more toxic than the original physical scuffle that set off this crazy set of circumstances.

But one thing about the Kennedy's new lawsuit caught my eye. In addition to alleging assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and malicious prosecution, the Kennedy suit also alleges breach of confidentiality on the part of the hospital and the nurses.

The lawsuit claims that that there were unauthorized disclosures of Molly Kennedy's (the baby's mom) federally protected health information, including her medical records, as well as her infant son's medical records and a video surveillance tape from Jan. 7. In other words, in addition to the physical confrontation, the Kennedys are also alleging a HIPAA violation.

The hallway scuffle—which prompted the nurses involved to call a "code pink" for an infant abduction and a "code purple" for a combative person—is certainly the aspect of this case that's garnered the most media attention.

Let's face it; HIPAA's just not that sexy. But penalties for HIPAA violations can include huge monetary fines and even imprisonment. And those fines are about to increase, now that HHS has release its so-called "mega" final HIPAA rule.

The Kennedys allege that the hospital not only provided the nurses and their attorney with Molly Kennedy's protected health information. The complaint also notes that the information then aired on NBC's Today Show and other news outlets.

The Kennedys say that this damaged Molly Kennedy, "causing her to suffer from extreme emotional distress, and continue to suffer psychological injuries and pain with suffering of mind, fears, depression, anxiety, all of which, upon information and belief, have caused and will cause the need for psychological intervention and treatment."

I don't know how this will turn out, but I'm guessing that these cats aren't leaving the bag any time soon.


Alexandra Wilson Pecci is a managing editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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2 comments on "Kennedy Sues Nurses, Hospital After Scuffle"


Judy Elam (1/25/2013 at 9:51 AM)
As sad and sick as this entire situation appears, one could only hope that it might ultimately lead to better clarification of professional role responsibility for nursing staff. We hold ourselves so accountable for every aspect of pt health, safety & well-being while one is in our care. We struggle daily with HIPAA-based issues, and wonder if we have done too much to assist a pt in need, or have not done enough to help. Apparently in this 'elite' case, a judge/jury decided that nurses intent on protecting an infant who potentially was facing some level of harm at worst and was leaving the floor during an admission at least [in winter in New York to go outside on a roof with minimal cover for 'fresh air'??], did not have the right or responsibility to assure that it was safe in the face of its biological father's personal wishes. One could therefore conclude that a nurse has no right or need to question a biological parent's care; the parent is 'always right'. And if that same parent had jumped off the roof with pt/child in arms? One can only assume that said parent had the right to do so, and said nurses had no right to prevent or attempt to prevent this action. Defamation of character by the nurses? I believe the father's actions defame him in their own right. How much easier and simpler this profession would be if nurses were indeed not responsible for the care & well-being of their patient!!

Sam Kaplan (1/23/2013 at 4:09 PM)
1. Throughout this affair Mr. Kennedy has acted like someone in need of medical attention, and that appears to be continuing. 2. As for HIPAA, I do not recall reading anywhere to what extent a hospital may use PHI in defense against a lawsuit, which is the sharing that Mr. Kennedy alleges. As Ms. Pecci points out, that issue is not going away, and if there is not clarity in the law or regulations, then a court ruling on it will hold sway.