IOWA CITY, Iowa – One of three University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics workers being fired for allegedly breaching the medical records of injured football players is a 26-year employee who says she did nothing wrong, a union president said Monday.
The woman has a spotless disciplinary record during her employment at UIHC and has worked in health care for 40 years, said John Stellmach, the president of a labor union representing 2,200 hospital employees. He said she has been accused of viewing unauthorized medical records on a computer for a matter of seconds, which he said should be treated as a minor infraction even if true.
"She wholeheartedly says she didn't do it," Stellmach told The Associated Press. "Quite frankly, I feel that she is getting the shaft."
The hospital announced last week it would fire three employees and giving five-day suspensions to two others after an investigation found they violated the privacy of 13 Iowa football players hospitalized with a rare muscle disorder following intense winter workouts. The players were affected by rhabdomyolysis, which can cause kidney damage, and were released from the hospital after several days of treatment. The university continues to investigate the case, which has generated tremendous public interest.
The hospital has refused to release the names or positions of the employees accused of breaching the players' records nor the specific allegations against each, including the difference between those being suspended and fired.
Stellmach said only one of them was a member of his union, and he described her as a "front-line worker" whom he would not identify. He said he hopes to get the woman her job back by disproving the allegations or convincing the hospital to reduce the punishment to a five-day suspension through a grievance process if she chooses to contest her discipline.
He said he has been told "there was a tab clicked and opened for a couple of seconds" before it was closed. He sat in a meeting last week where the employee denied doing so and offered some potential explanations, including that another employee accessed the records from a shared computer she left open.
"I hope her story checks out and it turns out she didn't do it. I truly believe what she is saying," he said. "We represent good hard-working people. We know the rules and we follow the rules."
Hospital spokesman Tom Moore declined to comment on Stellmach's remarks. He released a document showing discipline for privacy breaches at UIHC can range from a verbal reminder to termination depending on several factors, including how many patients' records were affected and whether the information was released to an outside party.
The university has refused to release the names of the players who were hospitalized, and athletic department spokesman Steve Roe said the team would not comment on action being taken against workers at the facility.
Stellmach credited the hospital with warning about the consequences of breaching medical records after a case in which 21 workers allegedly violated the privacy of Michelle Kehoe, an Iowa woman who was found guilty of killing her 2-year-old son and injuring the boy's older brother in 2009. Kehoe claimed she was mentally ill and had received treatment at the hospital.
Stellmach said the union was successful in that case in reducing a proposed termination of its one member involved to a five-day suspension.
Cathy Glasson, president of a union that represents 3,000 nurses and other care providers at the hospital, said her union has not received any information about the disciplinary action.
"We're thinking that no news is good news," she said. "We're assuming that our folks knew not to do that and hopefully we won't have to address it. But if we do, we will deal with that and work with the hospital and the affected health care provider."