Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mountains & Molehills

A case of who knew too much about Clooney

By Gina Piccalo, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 11, 2007

A New Jersey hospital is at the center of a storm over its suspension of 27 staffers. The action, over viewing of the actor's file, seems 'a little harsh,' his publicist says.

George Clooney's medical records and the hospital staff who may or may not have leaked them to reporters have caused quite a dust-up at a North Bergen, N.J., hospital this week, leading to a month's suspension of 27 staffers without pay and thrusting Palisades Medical Center into the rigorous churn of the worldwide celebrity news cycle.

The story was bested this morning only by Lindsay Lohan's whereabouts since rehab, and naturally hundreds of bloggers debated the hospital's actions. Camera crews flocked to the Palisades Medical Center, and reporters flooded the phone lines of the hospital and the union representing some of the suspended staffers.

"It is just sickening," said one hospital receptionist of the newshounds. "There's more important things going on in the world."

Indeed. But -- spoiler alert! -- those things won't be covered here.

Clooney and his girlfriend, Sarah Larson, took a spill while riding the actor's motorcycle in northern New Jersey on the afternoon of Sept. 21. Clooney suffered road rash and a cracked rib, and Larson injured her foot. They were treated and released from the hospital the same day.But news of the incident ricocheted around the Internet and made headlines around the world (as did subsequent footage of Clooney escorting his paramour as she teetered along on crutches).

Palisades Medical Center found itself at the heart of the news story and launched an investigation into staff access to Clooney's records. So far the hospital hasn't accused its staff of leaking the information to the press, but the investigation revealed that as many as 40 hospital staff members accessed the actor's personal medical records in apparent violation of federal law that bars staff members who are not directly connected to a patient's treatment from consulting a patient's medical records.

Since then the story has gained momentum, leaving the hospital struggling to go about its daily work while at the eye of a celebrity news story. The 27 staffers were suspended on Friday. The hospital released a statement today, emphasizing that its staff "adheres to a strong code of ethics that respects the privacy and confidentiality of all of our patients.

"Eurice Rojas, the hospital's vice president of external affairs, could not be reached for further comment.

A spokeswoman for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents seven of the suspended workers, has publicly criticized the suspensions as premature until the hospital's investigation is complete. Some suspended employees may have been legally permitted to view the records, said union spokeswoman Jeanne Otersen.

"I'm looking at the Web and seeing how widespread [this story] is," she said. "Whether you are John Doe or George Clooney, you have the same rights to privacy. The same goes for the staff. They have rights too. Now you have a tenfold violation of his privacy. . . . I think there's a different way to handle it so that you both protect patients and educate workers and make sure that, while people are held accountable, there's due process."

For his part, Clooney -- known for his lively debates with the media on its treatment of celebrities -- has taken this latest security breach in stride.

On Tuesday afternoon, he issued a statement in defense of the staffers and emphasized that he had nothing to do with the investigation of the alleged leak.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Clooney said, referring to the suspensions. "And while I very much believe in a patient's right to privacy, I would hope that this could be settled without suspending medical workers."

"This is not our issue," Clooney's publicist Stan Rosenfield added today. "This is between the hospital and their employees . . . . This was not anything we instigated. We felt that perhaps suspending medical workers was a little harsh."

Yes, patient confidentiality is important & is well understood by health care workers.

But suspending 27 hospital staff for one month with no pay??? That's a bit much, isn't it?

I wonder if the same punitive action would have been imposed if the patient happened to be John Smith, plumber instead of George Clooney, movie star?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If proven beyond doubt that they are responsible, the punishment for the 27 is rather heavy but not overboard.

It's another issue altogether whether or not a celebrity has been given special attention.