Records show that in February of 2012, FF Brandon Church used patient information obtained in the course of his duties to make contact with a patient he had treated only hours earlier.

Has your confidential personal information been used illegally?

Were you also harassed?

 

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor. There had been some time pass since I needed medical services and I updated some information, and reviewed a copy of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form.

 

This is a critical document that every health care provider in the United States must abide by, safeguarding your personal information they keep in their records. This information is strictly controlled and limited to use only by those you authorize and only for the care you sought from the person you sought it from.

 

It requires health care professionals to never use or release your Personal Health Information (PHI) to anyone.

 

Violation can mean losing your job. And placing your employer at great risk.

 

Suppose to be, anyway.

 

Misappropriating your confidential information, for person gain, sexual innuendo and possible harassment

 

Ever had someone use your personal confidential information for other than official and proper reasons?

 

Like maybe invite you to a party, or just want to ‘connect’?

 

Maybe the contact was even more upsetting. Possibly something like sexting? Think Anthony Weiner

 

This can be very uncomfortable and difficult to deal with. Even embarrassing. After all, it was a person of trust that violated your privacy. Who do you turn to for help? Who will believe your story? Will you be blamed for coming forward?

 

Even worse, since it happened to you, how many other victims are there? Each too embarrassed, or worse yet intimidated, to come forward. Is the person that violated your privacy, maybe even harassed you with sexual innuendo, still ‘getting away with it’?

 

What if it were actions by a public employee, like say of a fire department?

 

Had something like this happened to you by an employee at your local fire department, you may not be alone.

 

Locally there is the case of Dr. Greg Summers, a chiropractor in private practice in Federal Way who has some allegations against him.

 

First, there was one woman who filed a complaint. Until then, no one publicly suspected there might be something wrong. Then as news got out, others found the strength to come forward.

 

That is critical.

Because the public was unaware of the allegations of one woman, others who may have felt uncomfortable did not come forward. So as long as it remained a secret, potential victims remained silent.

And alone.

 

Doctor Summers maintains that he is innocent and proceedings may well bear him out. After all, he has not confessed any wrong-doing. Or been found guilty. The courts will be hearing his case soon.

 

This forum is not intended to weigh either way for Dr. Summers. I only mention is case as a study for how an investigation into a private sector citizen was conducted. Again, now that allegations have been brought to light, and an investigation form multiple authorities is complete, his innocence or guilt is for a court to decide.

 

Then today we read about another health care professional who has his license suspended for unprofessional conduct:

Federal Way counselor Scott Hale had his credentials suspended for five years by state health officials earlier this week, after the Department of Health (DOH) indicated Hale “admitted having sex with a client on three occasions.”

According to the DOH, Hale was counseling the client for the effects of childhood sexual abuse and other mental health conditions. Hale cannot seek reinstatement for at least five years, and he will have to meet “requirements designed to protect the public before being reinstated.”

Hale’s issues came to light in February, when it was alleged that he had sex with a patient at a Burien mental health clinic at which Hale worked.

 

Some parallel aspects can be discussed.

 

For example, as noted above in Dr. Summers case, one allegation became several. But only AFTER the public became aware. This is not surprising, considering actions of this type, if true, are rarely isolated. Notably, a person may be guilty of speeding for years before getting caught and fined.

 

Embarrassment or intimidation also tends to cause victims to retreat and remain silent.

 

Another truism is that almost all victims are reluctant to expose a suspected crime if they think they are the only ones. Who would believe them? Against a well known and respected member of the community?

 

Is there a Red Wall

 

If all accounts of unprofessional conduct can be contained within tight control of the alleged perpetrator, their office, employer, or in this case, the walls of the fire department, no one will ever learn of the problem. It gets handled internally and never sees the light of day. Or knowledge of other potential victims.

 

Hence, is there a Red Wall in the fire department? These folks live together and need to trust each other with their lives. The closeness requires that bonds be formed, brotherhood and sisterhood cliques created. Like family.

Similar to the Blue Wall of protection supposedly around the police department. Where the mantra seems to be we protect our own at all cost. Keep it quiet, keep it internal, contain it, deny it, defend it, then make it go away.

So how do you deal with a member you can not trust?

 

Now for the soul searching question and

CALL TO ACTION!!!

 

Have you experienced what you might consider to be unprofessional conduct form a member of the local fire department?

 

Did you decide not to do anything about it because a claim against a fire department employee could be particularly embarrassing? After all, it couldn’t have happened, could it?

 

Unless it did.

 

And the lid was so tightly secured that no one outside the department knew about the illegal behavior. No one was aware of the violation of public trust. No one suspected. Not the police. Not even the agency the fire department is required to report itself to. No one.

 

Because it was ‘handled’ internally. On the secret side of the Red Wall.

 

It just went away. The victim was presumably told this was the first time (right?) and that it would never happen again. Just sign here, let us take care of it and go quietly about your business.

 

Just an anomaly?

 

These types of activities can go on repeatedly for years before discovery.

 

If nobody is willing to come forward and expose the potential crime.

 

But as we have seen in Dr. Summers’ case, one person had the strength. And AFTER the allegations went public, others came forward with astounding stories of inappropriate behavior. Unprofessional Conduct.

 

Likewise, in the case I am presenting, a victim of HIPAA violation for confidential personal information did come forward. This person was proven through evidence to have told the truth. And the department concluded that a fire-fighter was guilty of using “privileged information to which he had access in the course of his official duties to make contact with a patient he assisted on a response”.

 

This one patient did complain. And they stand alone.

 

Secret Society

The problem was that since no outside agency, neither the local police, the state health department nor the federal health department (even though the law requires notification), was made aware of the proven violation. They were denied the chance of independent investigation. Or to ask the public for help. Or identify other potential victims as occurred in the Dr. Summers case.

 

Do you have the strength to stand beside the previous patient?

 

Or are you willing to just remain silent and let it possibly keep happening? To whom next? How severely next time?

 

Not saying there are others, but without making the violations as public as were made for Dr. Summers allegations, we’ll never know, will we?

 

Do you have a complaint that needs to be filed?

 

 

The public has a chance to help

On July 11, 2013, the Washington State Department of Health opened an investigation into Emergency Medical Technician Licensee Brandon Church.

 

A complaint was also filed with the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The law states that a Breach Notification of personal privacy MUST be reported to the Secretary within the first 60 days of the calendar year following the Breach.

Oops, the department skipped this requirement, too. That’s okay, the regional office is now looking into it.

 

Records show that in February of 2012, FF Brandon Church used patient information obtained in the course of his duties to make contact with a patient he had treated only hours earlier.

 

That patient approached a member of a different fire department, and that person came forward to administration at SKF&R. The investigation showed that contact made by FF Church with the patient was personal and included sexual innuendo.

 

This resulted in findings of guilt by his supervisors at South King Fire & Rescue, and the decision for disciplinary action. That decision was approved all the way up the chain of command. All in the department in a position of power knew and agreed with the findings and process. And had to of known of the failings.

 

What the tightly controlled ‘investigation’ did not include is vital.

 

It did not include making the public aware of the unprofessional conduct of a fire fighter.

It did not include seeking information of possible multiple violations.

It did not include notifying state and federal regulators, as required by law, of proven unprofessional conduct.

 

 

CALL TO ACTION

If you believe this is the only time this happened, then do nothing.

 

If the Department of Health follows the same investigation techniques as SKF&R, then the public will again be denied a full accounting.  Without making the allegations, in this case proven unprofessional conduct, public knowledge and asking the public for help to identify other possible victims, then justice can not be served. The public will not be properly served.

 

If you know of anything like this happening, to you or someone else, then now is the time to take action. A PROPER investigation needs all the information.

 

Want to file a police report? Or email Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson?

 

Or you can contact the Department of Health to file a complaint.

 

If you feel you have a valid complaint, I urge you to reach out to both. Because the fire department has decided by keeping quiet that it will not help keep you safe from one of their own.

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