Treatment facility that released patient information not entitled to summary judgment

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A man who says he is suffering negative repercussions after a mental health facility released his medical information to a family member will be able to move forward with his case in court.

J.H. checked himself into St. Vincent Stress Center because he was suffering from depression but told the staff he did not want his family to know he was being treated. However, the hospital did call his grandmother, E.H., and informed her that her grandson was hospitalized and was safe.  

Claiming that he now feels shame and anger because his family knows about his condition, J.H. filed a complaint against the hospital alleging invasion of privacy, breach of statutory duty, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Marion Superior Court awarded summary judgment to St. Vincent. J.H. appealed and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings

J.H. argued, in part, that by calling his grandmother and telling her where he was, the hospital violated Indiana statute which prohibits the release of a patient’s mental health records except in very limited circumstances.

St. Vincent countered that J.H. did consent to the release of information when he signed the “Release of Information” and Authorization to Disclose Health Information” forms.

The Court of Appeals rejected the hospital’s contention. It noted that contrary to the language on the release form that the information will be given to family members who are involved in the patient’s care and to anyone who inquired about the patient by name, J.H.’s grandmother was not involved in his medical treatment and she did not initiate the contact with St. Vincent.

In addition, the authorization form states information will be disclosed in an emergency. The Court of Appeals was not convinced by St. Vincent’s argument that an emergency existed because during the admission process staff found a bullet in J.H.’s pocket and he alluded that he owned a gun.

“But that evidence is completely unavailing in light of the designated evidence that neither of St. Vincent’s communications with E.H. pertained to that alleged emergency or otherwise indicated to E.H. that an emergency existed at all,” Judge Edward Najam wrote in J.H. v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., 49A05-1404-CT-174.

“Both in the voice mail left for E.H. and during E.H.’s subsequent phone call with a Stress Center employee,” Najam continued, “no information touching on anything that could be interpreted to be of an emergent nature was given or obtained. E.H. was told only that J.H. was a patient at the Stress Center and that he was safe. Accordingly, St. Vincent has not made a prima facie showing that it communicated with E.H. because of an emergency, which was the only permitted disclosure under the Authorization form.”


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