- Private Health Information unprotected regularly.
- CEO Lori Herndon unconcerned with patients privacy concerns.
- Geisinger Health Systems says "You belong to us!"
Going to the hospital is supposed to be a private event, something where one might be able to be transparent with healthcare providers in order to receive the best needed care. But for several patients, who wished to remain anonymous, it became a nightmare when they came to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, NJ.
For one, her visit on December 13, 2019, to the city hospital’s Radiology unit on the second floor was everything but what one might expect. She was already very nervous after receiving news of several masses and cysts in her breast, and on her lungs over the last year. After receiving a benign biopsy to her breast six months prior, she was there to make sure all had remained the same via ultrasound. While there in the second floor waiting room, two technicians came out and called her by her first and last name, causing the entire room to come to attention, and then the unthinkable, “Are you the one with the lumps in your breast?” the technician belted out.
“I couldn’t believe it, the whole room gasped and I was so in shock and embarrassed, and she kept going, asking me if I had any pain or discharge, I begged her to stop! I wished it had happened after my procedure, the fact that I had to stay amongst these people after they knew my business was a killer!” the patient stated.
A short time later the Director of Radiology, Ernesto Cerdena came to her and apologized on behalf of the facility, even sharing a story of his own HIPAA violation at a doctors office with her, and gave him her contact information to follow up.
However, when the patient retained counsel after several other complexities that ocurred stemming from this incident, Mr. Cerdena was not backed by the facility. Instead CEO Lori Herndon and the hospital’s General Counsel Jill O’Keefe actually shunned the patient and ignored her, and in a brazen twist, contacted her Pulmonologist office at Shore Physicians Group to “warn” them that she had filed a claim for the breach– causing the patient to be retaliated against at the Pulmonologist office, who also so happened to be an AtlantiCare affiliate.
“When I walked into my pulmonologist office, the receptionist asked me to come behind the counter and said she didn’t want any HIPAA problem from me, I immediately felt uncomfortable but because my lungs were at stake, I pushed myself to go along with it and endure it…”
Not exactly the response you would expect in a situation that had been witnessed by a staff director. But that wasn’t all of it. Later on December 21, 2019, a young girl sat in her Emergency Room bed at the facility waiting to be treated for several issues she was facing, and it was also discovered through labs that she had a urine infection, but here is how was she told:
“It was yelled to me, the doctor was outside of my curtain across the room when she yelled to me that I had tested positive for a urine infection and that she was going to give me an antibiotic for it, I was happy they had found it and I was getting treated, but I was embarrassed because I could hear people laughing, people that walked by in the moments after smirked at me because my curtain was open, later a staff representative came and tried to make sure I didn’t sue, I didn’t even know I could not was I thinking that way.”
When a Hispanic male spent a few days in the hospital through Christmas, it was a scary time for him he stated. His family shared with us how the hospital didn’t make a translator readily available to him, and “yelled” at him in English. His situation was quite severe as he had lost a lot of blood and needed a blood transfusion, though there was no evidence of how he had lost the blood, so the hospital wanted to check him anally for the presence of bleeding. An onlooker told us:
“After the doctor continued to yell this frightening news to him in English, all the other patients and their family began to stare at him and his situation, yet had they just got a translator for him, his privacy would’ve been protected and he would’ve been more at ease. Not understanding what was happening or what his prognosis was because of the language barrier made it terrorizing to him, but the doctor complained she hated language barriers, she actually said if it wasn’t for the permission for the blood transfusion then she wouldn’t get a translator and that he was wasting time.”
Since Lori Herndon has taken over as CEO of the facility, she okayed the merger with Geisinger, who also seems to be aloof to privacy concerns of patients. Geisinger is currently fighting to keep itself protected from a sexual assault lawsuit launched at one of its physicians and both entities. And because of Geisinger wanting to be removed as a defendant in the lawsuit, AtlantiCare has now asked to be released from Geisinger as a member, when the ink on the merger contract hasn’t even dried.
So where does that leave patients? For as long as we can remember, when your privacy was violated at a medical facility, your only recourse of action was to file a HIPAA complaint, which would only result in any action if it had happened in nominal numbers of patients. So you as an individual had to dry your tears, face the humiliation and accept it as an occurrence in your life. But not anymore- Did you know that lawyers across the country are firing back at health facilities like AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center. In the last few years, it’s becoming more popular for attorneys to try cases of HIPAA, but not as HIPAA. Instead, Invasion Of Privacy and Patient-Doctor Confidentiality Act.
The patients I interviewed this week are among seventeen patients of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center that are gearing up for a groundbreaking showdown with AtlantiCare and Geisinger, breaking down the old age wall that for years has allowed hospitals and medical facilities in general to get away with this and instead hold them accountable for the emotional scars of their victims.
If you or anyone that you know has been a victim of HIPAA violations at an AtlantiCare facility, you’re being asked to contact 424-204-5749. All services are free of charge.