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HIPAA Violations in News by Nursing Home?

I filed a complaint against an Alzheimer's Center. They were found guilty of 4 major violations by a state investigator. In an article about the violations, the facility discussed my husband's specifc behaviors behaviors as the disease proressed. Does that violate MI HIPPA Privacy Laws? Can an Alzheimer's Adult Foster care facility discuss a resident's specific behaviors, and his changes as the disease progressed in the news?


Professional Answers

Answered by: Laurel Felsenfeld, Geriatric Care Manager

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First of all, HIPAA is federal, not state law. HIPAA refers to "protected personal health information"--in order for information to be protected, it must be 'connectable' to the person, e.g. by name. The other part of HIPAA is that the facility must be considered a 'health care facility or provider' that is subject to HIPAA. You mention violations cited by a state investigator, which makes me believe this was a licensed facility, which would appear to be subject to HIPAA, but not necessarily. Assisted Living falls into that gray zone. You could request a copy of the facility's "Privacy Practices" which they are required to provide to you (usually you get a copy on admission) that delineates what is considered protected health information, and how it is handled, and for what purpose. That should make it clearer whether this was a violation. As this disclosure was not part of your family member's treatment plan it appears it could be a violation, but I am assuming the article did not identify him or her by name and so it would not be "personal" because only you would know who it is. I hope that makes sense. Regardless it sounds like your relationship with the facility is irreparably damaged. If you need assistance looking elsewhere feel free to contact me.


Answer from: Alan M., Geriatric Care Manager

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Answer from: Don R., Elder Law Attorney

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This is clearly a HIPAA Violation.

Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule

HIPAA is a federal law that gives you rights over your health information and sets rules

and limits on who can look at and receive your health information.

Your Rights

You have the right to:

• Ask to see and get a copy of your health records.

• Have corrections added to your health information.

• Receive a notice that tells you how your health information may be used and


• Decide if you want to give your permission before your health information can be

used or shared for certain purposes, such as marketing.

• Get a report on when and why your health information was shared for certain


• If you believe your rights are being denied or your health information isn't being

protected, you can:

• File a complaint with your provider or health insurer, or

• File a complaint with the U.S. Government.

You also have the right to ask your provider or health insurer questions about your

rights. You also can learn more about your rights, including how to file a complaint

from the Web site at or by calling 1-866-627-7748.

Who Must Follow this Law?

• Doctors, nurses, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and many other

healthcare providers.

• Health insurance companies, HMOs, most employer group health plans.

• Certain government programs that pay for healthcare, such as Medicare and


What Information is Protected?

• Information your doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers put in your

medical record.

• Conversations your doctor has had about your care or treatment with nurses and

other healthcare professionals.

• Information about you in your health insurer's computer system.

• Billing information about you from your clinic/healthcare provider.

• Most other health information about you, held by those who must follow this law.

(c) 2009 NHPCO. 12

Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule (continued)

Providers and health insurers who are required to follow this law must keep your

information private by:

• Teaching the people who work for them how your information may and may not

be used and shared,

• Taking appropriate and reasonable steps to keep your health information secure.

To make sure that your information is protected in a way that does not interfere with

your healthcare, your information can be used and shared:

• For your treatment and care coordination,

• To pay doctors and hospitals for your healthcare,

• With your family, relatives, friends or others you identify who are involved with

your healthcare or your healthcare bills, unless you object,

• To protect the public's health, such as reporting when the flu is in your area, or

• To make required reports to the police, such as reporting gunshot wounds.

Your health information cannot be used or shared without your written permission

unless this law allows it. For example, without your authorization, your provider

generally cannot:

• Give your information to your employer.

• Use or share your information for marketing or advertising purposes, or

• Share private notes about your mental health counseling sessions.


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