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Analysis

Sexual Assault Victim Sues the Hospital that Treated Her

By John Commins  
   May 17, 2019

The plaintiff claims that an employee at the hospital gave the person who assaulted her personal information about her, and that the assailtant assaulted her again after she was discharged.

A sexual assault victim has filed a lawsuit against the hospital that treated her.

The Missouri plaintiff claims that an x-ray technician at Atchison Hospital in Atchison, Kansas passed along confidential information about her to the person who allegedly sexually assaulted her in May 2017, resulting in ongoing harassment and a second sexual assault six months after the woman was discharged, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka, Kansas.

The suit further alleges that managers and medical staff at the hospital soon became aware of the confidentiality breach, but that "no meaningful corrective action was taken."

The alleged assailant was not identified in the suit, and no details were provided on the status of any criminal investigation against that person.

The suit is seeking undisclosed punitive and compensatory damages from the hospital for invasion of privacy, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty.

According to the suit, the victim identified her attacker to hospital staff while they were administering a rape kit on May 26, 2017, and that the victim adamantly told staff that her Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-protected information could not be shared with anyone outside the immediate care team.

However, the information collected from the victim was stored on an unsecured electronic health record, where it later was allegedly improperly accessed by an x-ray technician, who allegedly passed the information on to the alleged perpetrator of the sexual assault.

The information included "facts relating to plaintiff's private life that were not at that time known in the community, contained in a public record, or otherwise available to the public," the complaint said.

"After obtaining plaintiff's confidential and private health information … plaintiff's assailant relentlessly harassed plaintiff through text messages, social media, and phone calls," the complaint said. "Such communications were highly threatening and contained graphic language and pornographic content. The assailant also stalked Plaintiff in public and at her home."

The x-ray technician also allegedly sent text messages to the plaintiff and worked "in coordination" with the assailant by "repeatedly hounding and harassing plaintiff by phone and text," the complaint said.

On Nov. 2, 2017, the x-ray technician was fired for disclosing the information, following a complaint by the plaintiff and an internal investigation by the hospital. However, the suit alleges that Atchison Hospital gave the technician "a positive reference," which allowed her to get a new job at a nearby hospital.

In a letter to the plaintiff, attached to the complaint, Atchison Hospital CEO John Jacobson, apologized, said the hospital had launched an internal investigation as soon as it learned of the breach, and fired the technician shortly thereafter.

"Once we learned of this incident and your concerns, the hospital took immediate action," Jacobson said in the Nov. 2, 2017 letter, adding that the hospital had taken steps to ensure such breaches would not occur again.

On Nov. 4, 2017, the plaintiff said she was sexually assaulted a second time by the same assailant, the complaint said.

Atchison Hospital Responds

In an email to HealthLeaders, Atchison Hospital Marketing Director T.C. Roberts offered the following statement.

"Patient confidentiality at Atchison Hospital and our ability to protect personal information is a top priority of ours. While we are limited with what we can share related to this situation, we are deeply disturbed by the actions of this former employee. In fact, when we were made aware of this situation, we took immediate steps to investigate and within two days, we terminated this individual’s employment.

In addition, we reviewed this specific situation to understand what could be done differently in the future and as a result, immediately implemented changes to our internal controls, including even stricter accessibility requirements to our Health Information Management (HMI) department. We are committed to doing everything possible to provide a safe and caring environment for our patients, and paramount to that is confidentiality and privacy around personal medical information."

“After obtaining plaintiff's confidential and private health information…, plaintiff's assailant relentlessly harassed plaintiff through text messages, social media, and phone calls.”

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: hafakot / Shutterstock


KEY TAKEAWAYS

The suit alleges that an employee at Atchison Hospital passed along confidential information about a sexual assault victim to her alleged attacker. 

The suit further alleges that managers and medical staff at the hospital were aware of the confidentiality breach, but that 'no meaningful corrective action was taken.'

Six months after the woman was discharged from Atchison Hospital, she was assaulted again, allegedly by the same person.


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