Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital have had to fire up to 60 employees for accessing Jussie Smollett’s medical records without correct authorisation to do so.
Jussie Smollett, an actor on Fox’s Empire, attended the hospital’s emergency room for treatment for injuries sustained in an alleged racist and homophobic attack by two men on January 29, 2019.
The Chicago police launched an investigation into the attack. Due to some suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced that the actor had been arrested on February 21 and charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. The police allege that the attack was a hoax and that Smollett had staged it as a publicity stunt.
So-called ‘snooping’ of medical records is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which requires any healthcare employee to have a justifiable reason to access medical information. Celebrity’s medical records pose a particular temptation for healthcare employees, particularly when those celebrities were involved in high-profile incidents.
Due to the strange circumstances of the incident, a significant number of employees at Northwestern Memorial Hospital searched for Smollett on the hospital’s system. Some of these employees accessed his chart and viewed his medical records without permission or a proper reason to do so.
As accessing medical information without permission is a HIPAA violation, staff may face disciplinary action. If the offence is particularly egregious, the employee may face criminal penalties.
Aware that some employees violated HIPAA, Northwestern Memorial Hospital reviewed PHI access logs and took decisive action over the privacy violations. The hospital fired all employees that they found snooping on Smollett’s medical records.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital has neither confirmed that Smollett was a patient nor provided information about the number of employees that have been terminated, stating that HIPAA prevents such information from being disclosed.
Some of the employees reached out to the media following the terminations. CBS Chicago claims that the hospital had terminated ‘dozens’ of employees for the HIPAA violations, and potentially up to 60. NBC Chicago has also reported there have been at least 50 terminations for snooping.