Hospital Doesn't Hide Behind HIPAA in Responding to Lawsuit
This e-newsletter is actually a "retread," in that the e-newsletter below was released last week, BUT, in reflecting, I think the real value of this e-newsletter for our readership is this hospital didn't hide behind HIPAA or "patient privacy" in responding to the lawsuit.
How often do we see some version of the following, "Patient privacy prevents us from responding to the Jones' family lawsuit...blah, blah." It's literally a broken record.
I understand the legal implications, but we all know that such responses come across as excuses or, worse, perpetuate the impression of a cover up. There has to be a better way that meets legal obligations while sounding intelligent to the public as well as your own staff. Consider the e-newsletter below:
St. Paul's Regions Hospital in Minnesota apologized for a 2013 incident in which the body of a stillborn baby was accidentally discarded in the laundry. The body was apparently discovered a week later at a commercial laundry.
The hospital apologized, but the family is suing anyway asking for a sum greater than $50,000. At a press conference, the plaintiff's attorney said the family is devastated and wants to make sure this mistake never occurs again. Now, according to the attorneys, there were some questions about when exactly the family was notified -- did they learn about the mistake from the media, or the hospital? And the hospital apparently lost the body of a second stillborn baby around the same time.
The hospital responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
"We want to say again that we are truly sorry for our mistake. We immediately reached out to the family in 2013 to apologize and to try to help ease their loss. We have continued to work with their lawyer – always open to a reasonable resolution.
We also took immediate steps to ensure that this would not happen again. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reviewed and approved our updated processes in 2014. We continue to review these processes on an ongoing basis."
I find this response interesting, and I wanted to share it with you. The hospital didn't hide behind HIPAA or say "no comment." Instead, they publicly owned the event, explained the problems have already been fixed to the satisfaction of the government, and said the door is always open to a reasonable solution. Much different approach than we usually see from healthcare organizations facing down a lawsuit. The hospital displayed the same approach when the news of these incidents broke in 2013.
Too often when faced with litigation, healthcare organizations take a defensive crouch, especially when the facts of the case are not clear nor is the hospital/nursing home ready to admit liability. In these circumstances, we recommend a statement in this realm: "We want the public to know that our hospital/nursing home addresses all complaints -- including lawsuits -- in a very serious fashion, and we are sorry this situation happened with the Smith Family. The door is always open to the Smith Family and their attorney, we look forward to working with them to address their concerns in a fair and expedited manner. In the meantime, we ask the public to withhold judgment about this lawsuit, including posting negative comments on social media. No family enters lightly into a lawsuit, and our doctors and nurses do their best every day. Instead, we ask that you keep the Smith Family and our doctors and nurses in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. Thank you."
At Sorry Works!, we have often said that disclosure is not just for the four walls or your organization, but a philosophy and message that should be shared with your larger community. I think this story is an example.
To learn more about developing your disclosure program, get a copy of the Sorry Works! Tool Kit.
Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works!, 618-559-8168