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Hospital Staffer Texted Photo Of Murdered Teen

by Thomas MacMillan | Jul 22, 2011 1:23 pm

(24) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Health

After 17-year-old Travis Washington died in the Hospital of St. Raphael’s Emergency Room, a hospital clinician present took out a cell phone, snapped a picture of his gunshot wound and sent it off for others to look at.

In the wake of that incident, the hospital has fired three employees. A distraught mother—already coping with the murder of her son—is contemplating a lawsuit.

Washington, a student at Hillhouse High, was gunned down on June 25 near the corner of Percival and Carmel streets in Beaver Hills. Someone shot him multiple times in the chest. He survived long enough to make it to the hospital, but died there soon after.

Shortly after he passed, the hospital contacted Washington’s mother, Virginia Williams. The hospital informed her that a photograph had been taken of her son after his death by a hospital employee and had been shared with others.

Here’s how St. Ray’s spokesman Liese Klein described it Thursday: “Through our internal processes, we became aware of a clinician who had inappropriately photographed the wound of a deceased patient and shared that photo with another staff member, who in turn shared it with a small number of other individuals.”

According to Jerald Barber, Williams’ lawyer, the employee texted the photograph to others, setting off a kind of “phone tree” as the picture was shared further. He said his office is investigating rumors that the photo may have spread online via email or Facebook.

In the meantime, Williams is considering suing the hospital, Barber said. He said the incident is a clear violation of privacy and confidentiality patient rights.

“Something went horribly wrong at St. Raphael’s hospital,” he said.

Allan Appel File Photo Williams, who returned to work this week for the first time since her son’s death, declined to speak about the matter. She continues to be very upset not only by the loss of her son but also by the photograph incident, Barber said. Washington’s father, Todd Williams, also declined to comment.

St. Ray’s has taken disciplinary action against the employees involved in the incident, said Klein. “While the patient is unidentifiable in the photograph, the picture was unauthorized and violates our zero tolerance policy relating to patient privacy. As a result of this incident, three employees were terminated and others have received written warnings, documented counseling and there has been related education.”

The terminations happened within 10 days of the incident, Klein said. She said the hospital will not release the titles or other information about the staff who were disciplined, due to “employee privacy concerns.”

The hospital recovered images in the course of its investigation, all of which were deleted, Klein said. “To the best of our knowledge, there were no Internet or social media postings of the image.”

In addition to informing Washington’s family about what happened, the hospital later offered to help with funeral expenses, Klein said. “After learning of the matter, we reached out with and met with the family to express our extreme dismay over this incident, and to convey our deep sorrow on the death of their loved one. Subsequent to that, we learned through media reports of efforts to raise funds to assist the family with burial expenses. We then offered to make a contribution to support these efforts—a contribution that was completely separate from the incident and was never discussed in the context of it.  Saint Raphael’s has similarly assisted other families during difficult times, consistent with its mission of reaching out to this community.”

The hospital did not offer a specific amount of money to the family, Klein said. The family did not respond to the offer, she said.

Read about Washington’s family’s fund-raising efforts here.

“The law is pretty clear that without a patient’s consent their medical information is their own private business,” Barber said. “Certainly you have to draw the line when you have individuals taking cell phone pictures.”

The family never gave consent for photos, Barber said.

“Maybe that’s the age we live in now,” Barber said. Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous, so “folks think they can click” a picture of whatever they come across, he said.

Michael Grodin, a professor of health law at Boston University, agreed that it is never acceptable to take or distribute photos of a patient without obtaining consent. “If the case is as you describe it then I would argue that this was clearly a breech of duty, causing dignitary harm and psychological anguish, both of which should receive an apology at minimum and I would support awarding damages,” Grodin said. “I would also fire the employee.”

June Sullivan, a Hartford attorney specializing in health law, said a case like this one could be considered violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or of state confidentiality laws.

A new state law, originally put forward by New Haven State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield during the most recent legislative session, explicitly prohibits first responders from taking or distributing photos of patients. 

With cell phones cameras ever more common, “it’s difficult from health care provider’s perspective” to maintain patient privacy, Sullivan said. “It’s becoming an issue.”

Hospitals are required to train employees on the privacy implications of HIPAA, Sullivan said.

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posted by: Livesinfairhaven on July 22, 2011  2:06pm

Not nice!  Whoever took that photo knew full well they shouldn’t have.  Although a lawsuit won’t bring Travis Washington back, I hope Ms. Washington does sue and get something out of it.

posted by: bjfair on July 22, 2011  2:16pm

Unbelievable.Can’t imagine what anyone would get out of doing this.

posted by: SB on July 22, 2011  2:36pm

Anyone else see the irony of “employee privacy concerns” when dealing with ...s who so hideously violated the privacy of a crime victim?

posted by: JAK on July 22, 2011  2:50pm

In our new era of technology, Hospitals ought to ban staff from carrying cell phones while on duty.  This situation is inexcusable.

posted by: Gary Holder-Winfield on July 22, 2011  3:56pm

This is terrible. One might think that common sense would militate against such action but it doesn’t.  The general assembly actually dealt with a similar issue in this last session and passed a bill, SB 1099, which dealt with the transmission of photos of victims by first responders. Just terrible.

posted by: East Rocker on July 22, 2011  5:43pm

This is really horrible.

Livesinfairhaven:

I’m curious, why should the mother sue?  Although the hospital is clearly liable since it was one of its employees that did this, the hospital seems to have responded swiftly and appropriately and made clear that this is unacceptable.  Had this been just the latest in a long string of such violations that were known to the hospital, or if the hospital had not handled it appropriately, that would be a different story.  But the article gave no indication that that was the case.  It was, in fact, the hospital that brought this problem to light in the first place.

Clearly, the hospital needs a refresher course for all of its employees about what is and is not acceptable.  But do we have to sue over everything that goes wrong, even if we may be entitled to by the law?  Do we really want to live in a society that is so litigious?  As long as the hospital is not guilty of systemic gross violations or of ignoring the problem, should we really be sanctioning them with a huge financial penalty, which will ultimately just raise the cost of healthcare?

Maybe the answer is yes.  But I do not think we should be so quick to sue just because we can.  In fact, not suing may encourage large organizations like the hospital to do the right thing - i.e. admit their wrongdoing and take appropriate actions - rather than trying to hide or deny the problem for fear of a financial penalty.  A little restraint, especially when the hospital responded to the case in an appropriate way, could be a very refreshing and healthy thing for our society.

Thoughts???

posted by: get a grip on July 22, 2011  7:05pm

This is baloney. The patient was UNIDENTIFIABLE in the pictures. HIPAA runs amok when you can’t even have a pic of a GSW where the pt is UNIDENTIFIABLE. Stupid. Wanna ban cellphones? Good luck making the Doctors leave theirs outside. Ha!

posted by: Tom on July 22, 2011  9:41pm

Unfortunately East Rocker, you are out tune with reality like many from your district. It’s very easy to tell someone to show “restraint” when the issue has no impact on your life. The hospital only contacted Ms. Robinson because they knew it would save them money in the civil case. The difference between being straight forward and attempting a cover-up could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in the eyes of a liberal judge and jury. Large institutions and businesses rarely do the “right thing” for the sake of morality and or integrity.

posted by: Concerned Citizen on July 23, 2011  4:09am

The totally inappropriate action by a “clinician”  at the hospital is outrageous.  It does demonstrate that one can be highly trained and skilled and still be irresponsible and lack good judgement.

Of course, there are various levels of clinicians; however, whatever the level of this culprit and his/her cohorts, the behavior is reprehensible.  The hospital acted appropriately in notifying the parents and firing the employees involved.

I am pleased to read the comments posted by East Rocker; I concur 100 percent with everything said.  Given the hospital’s actions, exactly why should the parents sue?  We all need to have a more in-depth understanding of why health care in the USA is so costly.  For every person who sues a health care provider (especially when the only reason for the suit is to satisfy anger – a vengeance lawsuit) the cost of providing health care for all of us goes up the next year.  We do not have to use that facility or providers; cost is distributed by state and that affects health care premiums, costs of delivery and care for everyone. Lawsuits should compensate for intentional or carelessly inflicted injury.

As East Rocker said, had the hospital not notified the parents, it is likely they would never have known.  We want to encourage such ethical conduct.  Under the legal doctrine of Respondeat Superior (“let the master answer) in many circumstances, an employer is responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their employment. However, employers should also be able to rely on the sound judgement and ethical conduct of adult employees, and should not be held accountable for their inane behavior, unless the employer did not provide appropriate training. Most hospitals go to the other extreme to ensure conformance with HIPAA. Therefore, we need to look at the total picture and act responsibly even though someone else did not, and even though we might be angry.  Punishing the hospital is hardly an antidote in this situation. 

While this situation is outrageous, the hospital is hardly the culprit.  This is an opportunity for all responsible parents, employers, employees, professional colleagues and others to seize this very teachable moment.

posted by: Livesinfairhaven on July 23, 2011  6:15am

...

@East Rocker I can think of lesser reasons to legitimately sue somebody.  This was pretty eggregious.  You’re right though, the hospital did try to step up to the plate.  Maybe it would be better to hold the person who committed the act personally responsible and leave the hospital out of it.

posted by: tp on July 23, 2011  9:25am

The hospital did what was right. They immediately fired the people involved. What else is there to do? What will a law suit do for anybody? Policies were obviously violated, and the people involved were punished.  The hospital already educates people on the importance of patient privacy.  If anything I think the swift justice handed down by hospital administration will serve as an even stronger reminder than any class can provide. If a 17 year old in New Haven shoots another 15 year old, do we then sue the parent of the 17yr old? No the person committing the crime is punished (if they’re ever caught.) But hey, maybe someone can get rich off of this tragedy….And we already know that St Rays is doing soooo well financially….

posted by: Alan Felder on July 23, 2011  9:55am

My Lord and my God this is the lost of a beautiful soul, his Blood is on the hands of the political apparatus in the City of New Haven, these nefarious individuals can enjoy the worldly things of this life, but what about the after life? The plutocratic policies are causing the pathologies that exist in the Black community.

Proverbs 14:34
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

posted by: joe from west haven on July 23, 2011  10:08am

i have several family members and friends that work at st rays and i have used to hospital myself in the past. that is about as far as i am going to go on that part. as a retired paramedic, what was done was not only wrong, it was totally inexcusable and the hospital shows just how much they really dont give a hoot by citing the employees privacy rights in releasing the employee names to the public and keeping said employees shielded from the public while this poor kids picture made it out there. I myself currently have a hippa complaint filed against st raphaels. I was told directly by their records director that they would not honor my request to not release my records to anyone but my workers compensation lawyer or myself after learning that the hospital had released my medical records to an insurance company without the proper releases being filled out. the medical records director told me that the hospitals right to get paid for services trumps my right to privacy. That point given I pursued the HIPPA complaint. I was also hospitalized for liver failure at st rays last month. I was admitted to verdi 5 west. i wound up leaving the hospital against medical advise when a p.a. decided she was going to cut off meds that I am on due to reading a report from a doctor who had performed an independent medical exam for the insurance company and had recommended cutting off anything that was costing the insurance company money in an effort to help them out. I explained to this p.a. that this was an insurance companys doctor and not my treating physician, but she refused to budge even after being advised that these meds were still and are still being prescribed to me to this very day. this p.a. took it upon herself to call my doctors office and tell them she had a signed release form for records and basically defrauded them and got them to send over various medical records to which she didnt even pay attention to anyway in her treatment decision. my doctors office has done nothing but apologize left and right for what occured and its not even their fault. when confronted after i filed a complaint with patient relations, the hospital first denied everything, but when confronted with written statements from my doctors office as to what had occured and how the p/a/ had outright lied to them to obtain my records, they backed down and said they were sorry and even sent me a letter stating they were sorry too. big deal the wrong had already occured and treatment was denied in signing my a.m.a. form, i even stated that i was signing out because the hospital had refused to treat me. i am awaiting a liver transplant and had an active upper gi bleed. so as far as this hospital is concerned at this point, i wouldnt even bother sending my dog there. when a hospital is more concerned with getting paid than patient care there is a problem, when a hospital is more concerned for covering for its employees even after they have been proven to committed wrong as in both the case of releasing this poor kids pictures and not treating a sick patient, they dont deserve to be in business. st raphaels has been cited and fined from this states department of public health time and time again yet the violations continue and continue yet nothing is done, sure the state fines them but the fines get worked out or negotiated down and the hospital goes on its marry way. not sure about anyone else here, but I can tell you this, I wont be utilizing their services any longer in the future. i am currently looking for an attorney i can afford to go after them on grounds of both neglect, and malpractice, in addition to the hippa violation.

posted by: my on July 23, 2011  7:13pm

U know wat; for all u none african american mf this boy privacy was violated point blank period ya damn right his famiy deserve justice and compensation. When u violate HIIPA law the co.gets sued and the employee cud possibly get jail time. Had this family was another race there wud be no questions. The hospital tried to save there asses by saying something because eventually it wud have been exposed. Firing the employees.was a must…Ppl stop the nonsense if it where ur child how wud u feel? Wat wud u do?  Let it go?

posted by: HAMDEN on July 24, 2011  10:47am

FIRST OF ALL YES SHE SHOULD SUE THIS COULD CAUSE THESE PARENTS A LOT OF PAIN AND SUFFERING YOU DON’T KNOW WHO ALL GOT THIS PICTURE AND THIS PICTURE COULD SHOW UP A YEAR FROM NOW, TWO YEARS FROM NOW. WHY HAVE A HIPAA LAW IF NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO FOLLOW IT. AND WHY ON EARTH WOULD THIS PERSON TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS KID MAYBE HE OR SHE HAS TAKEN MORE PICTURES OF OTHER PATIENTS AND THEY WILL HIT THE INTERNET ONE DAY SO FOR ALL YOU NEGATIVE PEOPLE SAYING THEY SHOULD NOT SUE THIS IS A TIME WHEN SUING IS APPROPRIATE . SPEAKING FROM A PARALEGALS POINT OF VIEW. ITS NOT LIKE ALL THE PHONY CAR ACCIDENT SUING CASES WHEN PEOPLE NOT EVEN HURT AND THEY SUE.

posted by: B4Real on July 24, 2011  2:00pm

To all the negative posters…  I know the parents’ very well they are my cousins and I can tell you that hospital never meant with them.  They called by phone and offered a few hundred dollars only as an incentive for their employees screw ups.  Can anyone tell me when has this hospital ever offered to help any family in need?  I didn’t think so.

This young man has been gone for a month now and his parents’ and siblings cannot even morn their lost.  The facts are the hospital violated this young man, his parents’, siblings and the law. So says Michael Grodin, June Sullivan and so many others.

The parents’ learned of the photo from regular people on the streets before the hospital even called them.  Wow, WTF!  This photo was cropped and is already viral.  How can the hospital check all social media sites and determine the photo is not on these sites.  Well people can and have private pages.  ...

Have a nice day.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on July 24, 2011  10:52pm

... “get a grip” and some other folks comments are so raw. How can you be so callous? I can’t imagine loosing someone I love and afterwards find out that someone working in the hospital would be so insensitive and cold hearted. Why would someone do something like this????

posted by: K on July 24, 2011  11:18pm

To MY: #1This non african american mf thinks the family should sue! St.Rays should release names of employees and they should have to apologize to family in person.
...To Joe: Let me guess…it was pain meds that they didn’t give you and thats why you signed out….

posted by: joefrom west haven on July 25, 2011  8:48am

@K, uh no, but nice try. ensure and many other things were cut off even though i can’t and havent been able to hold down solid foods for quite some time now and the P.A. was also sanctioned by the hospital for it supposedly and i got a nice letter saying how sorry they were. Not to worry though the entire truth will come out as there is a pending complaint filed with the department of public health which i intend to release when its completed and i recieve my copy

posted by: Ansonia on July 25, 2011  10:06am

There is NO reason to sue.  The photo didn’t even show the boys face.  There is no way of telling who it was.  I don’t like St. Rays, never did,, but I will agree that what they did was right, not waiting, and opening the can of worms themselves. This family was trying to “raise” money to bury their child.,, so chances are they will sue,, because they don’t have any money.,,this seems to be their answer to get a little extra cash.  So the purpose of getting this money would be for what??? The child is dead,, he’s now buried.  I could see if he left behind a baby,, but he didn’t, so what’s the purpose to get the money?  NOTHING!! Having a check in your hand DOES NOT bring your child back,, it DOES NOT take away the pain, and it WILL NOT make you forget.  Why is it that most every time there is another Black kid killed,, there is some group of people out there trying to raise money to bury them.  What the hell is wrong with life insurance.  For less then $15 a month you can but $10,000 of insurance on your child.  And there is no way that you can’t afford that.  Even if your without a damn job,, you can collect cans to pay for your childs insurance.

posted by: spirit12 on July 25, 2011  10:31am

I think people forget that in America suing isn’t always just for money but to teach someone a lesson. Them sending that photo isn’t a criminal matter, so they can’t be arrested. It’s a civil matter which means the woman has to be sued. You want to make sure something like this never happens again because these people literally made a mockery out of her son. I’d probably consider suing too because what happens a lot of times in matters like this, is they’ll fire the person who did it but the person is still eligible to get their job back and a lot of times does. And working in a medical facility HIPA says you can’t reshare ANY information and i’m sure picture and nature the patient’s wounds through photos is a violation for that. Also being an accountant major right now, most hospitals if not ALL have money set aside usually for malpractice suits already, in case something were to happen so the hospital will probably be fine if sued. I can see why people question why the mother would sue but that’s how our court system work, for her to be sure things are handled the way she wants, that those nurses won’t get their job back etc…she has to sue.

posted by: get a grip on July 25, 2011  4:59pm

The person who should be sued is the person who killed this poor kid. Not the hospital, not the police,not the clinicians who did something stupid- if i were them I would argue that I had PTSD and wasn’t thinking clearly from dealing with all the drug-dealing gang-bangers coming thru the doors of the ER. Just sayin’

posted by: Walt on July 25, 2011  6:33pm

St Raphe’s. not St Ray’s.  please.

Never saw or heard it called St.  Ray’s except in the Independent

Thanks.

posted by: Anon J on July 31, 2011  3:54pm

FYI: At many hospitals, pictures of patient diseases (interesting rashes, interesting wounds, interesting tumors) are taken for teaching purposes. What rash is this? What stage tumor is this? What type of wound is this? How would you treat it? If it was for educational purposes, it was for the greater good. If it was for the gore factor, that is unacceptable.

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