Background on the Clooney medical records breach

This is the background to the medical records breach that led to suspension without pay of 27 employees at Palisades Medical Center in Bergen, NJ:

Actor George Clooney and his companion Sarah Larson were injured while riding Clooney's Harley Davidson motorcycle on Sept. 21 in Weehawken, NJ, according to a local police report. They were taken by ambulance to Palisades Medical Center, where Clooney was treated for a hairline fracture to a rib and abrasions, according to a statement released by Stan Rosensfeld, a spokesman for the actor. Larson was treated for multiple foot fractures, Rosenfeld said.

The actor initially planned not to issue any statement to the media regarding his accident, but the media seemed to know immediately. Within three hours of the accident, Rosenfeld received an e-mail from a popular magazine that said, "We have information that George Clooney is in Palisades Medical Center" after a motorcycle accident and is "suffering from road rash," the term commonly used in emergency departments to describe severe abrasions from motorcycle accidents.

Rosenfeld said he was surprised that the message pinpointed exactly where Clooney was and described his injuries accurately. "I figured somebody's been talking to somebody" he said.

On Oct. 10, quoting unnamed hospital employees, the television network CBS 2 HD reported that while doctors were treating Clooney and Larson, employees not involved in their care logged into the hospital computer system to review his medical records.1 The network reported that a security guard even gave a Clooney family member access to the hospital system to view the actor's records.

Hospital spokesman Eurice Rojas issued a statement confirming that 27 employees were suspended without pay for a month for inappropriately accessing Clooney's medical records. "They were severely disciplined," he said. Rojas went on to say the punishment was for inappropriately accessing the records, but the investigation did not determine that any employee had contacted the media.

Jeanne Otersen, a spokeswoman for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union in Emerson, NJ, which represents seven suspended nurses, says the punishment was overly harsh and that the union would fight to have the suspensions reduced. Otersen says the seven nurses looked at Clooney's records out of curiosity but did not divulge the information to anyone. She also said the real fault lay with the hospital for having such poor records security that a breach of this magnitude was possible.

After the suspensions became public, Clooney released a statement saying, "While I very much believe in a patient's right to privacy, I would hope that this could be settled without suspending medical workers."

Reference

1. "Clooney: Don't suspend hospital workers for medical info leak." CBS 2 HD. Accessed at: wcbstv.com/local/george.clooney.palisades.2.341274.html.

Sources

For more information on the records breach, contact:

  • Jeanne Otersen, Spokeswoman, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, 110 Kinderkamack Road, Emerson, NJ 07630. Telephone: (201) 262-5005.
  • Eurice Rojas, Media Affairs, Palisades Medical Center, 7600 River Road, North Bergen, NJ 07047. Telephone: (201) 854-5000.