Community Health wins partial reversal in family records dispute

The Indiana Court of Appeals has partially reversed in favor of a hospital on invasion of privacy and intrusion claims after a family feud between health care employees resulted in comprised confidential health records.

During their employment at the Indiana Orthopedic Center, Katrina Gray matched up her stepson with co-worker Heather McKenzie. The couple eventually married and had two children, but they later divorced.

Then, after Community Health Network Inc. acquired IOC, Gray was hired and trained as a medical records coordinator. In that role, she was provided access to Epic, an electronic medical records system, and authorized to schedule appointments and release records of the patients only within the IOC.

Following an anonymous report that Gray had accessed a personal chart in violation of Community’s policies and employee conduct rules, an investigation revealed that Gray had accessed her own chart as well as the confidential health records of multiple other patients, including McKenzie, her new husband and the children. She was then placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired.

The appellees brought claims for vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior and negligent training, supervision and retention against Community, as well as claims of negligence and invasion of privacy/intrusion against Gray. After the Marion Superior Court’s denial of Community’s Trial Rule 12(B)(1) motion to dismiss the complaint and motion for summary judgment, an interlocutory appeal was granted.

There, Community argued the trial court erred by denying its motion to dismiss the complaint as well as its conclusion that the appellees’ claims did not fall within the purview of the Medical Malpractice Act.

“… Appellees argue that ‘claims alleging the mishandling of a patient’s confidential information – even by a treating physician – are not governed by the Medical Malpractice Act.’ In this specific case, we agree with Appellees,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the appellate court.

First, the court rejected as unpersuasive Community’s reliance on Howard Reg’l Health Sys. v. Gordon, 952 N.E.2d 182, 185 (Ind. 2011), after finding Gordon’s holding on the maintenance of records to be inapplicable.

Instead, the panel found as instructive G.F. v. St. Catherine Hosp., Inc., 124 N.E.3d 76, 85 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), trans. denied. It noted that similar to G.F., the appellees’ complaint in the instant case was not subject to the limitations of the MMA, that Gray did not provide health care to them and that they were not patients of the practice where she specifically worked.

“It cannot be said that her conduct was in furtherance of providing health care or professional services to Appellees. … Accordingly, Appellees’ claims are not related to the promotion of their health and do not involve the use of professional expertise, skill, or judgment, as contemplated by the MMA,” Pyle concluded.

Next, the appellate court found no error in the denial of Community’s motion for summary judgment on the claims for respondeat superior and negligent supervision.

The court noted that a question of fact remains regarding why and what Gray did with the appellees’ private health information. Additionally, it found that whether she was acting within the scope of her employment was an issue to be determined by the trier of fact. Further, conflicting designated evidence created genuine issues of material fact as to whether Community breached its duty to protect the confidentiality of the appellees’ records.

However, the COA found that while genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Gray violated Community’s policies and its knowledge thereof regarding the appellees’ negligence claim, their invasion of privacy/intrusion claim must fail.

“Because Appellees do not claim any physical intrusion by Katrina, Community cannot be held vicariously liable for Appellees’ intrusion claim. Therefore, to the extent that Appellees’ respondeat superior claim is based on an underlying act of invasion of privacy/intrusion by Katrina, we conclude that Community is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” it wrote.

The case of Community Health Network, Inc. v. Heather McKenzie and Daniel McKenzie, individually and as parents and natural guardians of J.M. and O.M., John McKenzie, Deborah West, Michael West, and Katrina Gray, 19A-CT-873, was therefore remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment in favor of Community on the invasion of privacy/intrusion claim.

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