Search warrants can be more intimidating than subpoenas because law enforcement officials show up at the facility and demand access to certain areas and documents. That event can lead some risk managers or other hospital leaders just to glance at the search warrant and wave the police officers in.
That response would be a mistake, says Christine G. Savage, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Choate Hall and Stewart in Boston.
“You don’t let anyone take anything or rifle through files until you have verified the validity of the search warrant and its limitations,” Savage says. “You call a senior administrator and ask the people with the search warrant to sit in a lobby or conference room where you can keep an eye on them.”
If the search warrant is confirmed as valid, Savage recommends letting the staff in the targeted department leave for the day. If they remain in the department, or even nearby, the officials executing the search warrant will attempt to talk to them and obtain more information.
“It’s always amazing to me how many people will talk to law enforcement without considering whether they need a lawyer or giving the institution the opportunity to assert that it represents all its employees and will get them a lawyer,” Savage says. “There should be a senior administrator who is the point person, physically there with law enforcement officials, and that should be the person they talk to.”