On September 25, 2022, The Telegraph (a well-known digital and print news source that primarily reports on events in middle Georgia) reported that a Georgia nurse was arrested after allegedly videoing a patient giving birth and sharing the video on Snapchat.
These are only allegations, and the specifics are limited. However, according to The Telegraph, the arrest warrant indicates that police at the medical center brought the charges against the 26-year-old nurse. On May 16, 2022, the nurse was allegedly observed by the patient and the child’s father entering the room with the flash of her phone on in the pocket of her scrubs while the patient was in labor. The mother was reportedly informed that a video of her in labor was circulating on Snapchat. The warrant did not indicate why the video was shared nor did it indicate who may have shared the video on social media. The alleged video has also not been released by authorities or private individuals.
The nurse was charged with eavesdropping, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The nurse’s attorney (Ken Smith of The Law Offices of Ken Smith, LLC) issued a statement noting that the nurse’s employer (Atrium Health Navicent) performed a thorough administrative investigation of the patient’s complaint and found the complaint to be baseless and allowed the nurse to return to work. He further notes that “[w]thout any new evidence, despite her being cleared of wrongdoing, and months after the alleged event, a warrant was then sought by the complainant … [the nurse] denies any illegality or wrongdoing and intends on vigorously defending herself from these defamatory allegations on all fronts.”
While these are only allegations, real-world consequences exist for all involved. The patient has likely been impacted by the possibility of such a privacy violation. The nurse involved faces criminal charges and may be investigated by the Georgia Board of Nursing. The Board may revoke a nurse’s license for several reasons. Particularly related to the allegations lodged against the nurse in this report, a felony conviction, a crime involving moral turpitude, any unprofessional, unethical, deceptive conduct harmful to the public regardless of actual injury to a person, and several other broadly written rules can lead the Georgia Nursing Board to take adverse action against the nurse, including revocation of her license. The nurse’s employer may also face consequences for this incident. At the very least, the employer may be forced to deal with a public relations nightmare and a loss of trust from its community. The employer may also face scrutiny or an investigation from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“HHS-OCR”). HHS-OCR enforces various federal laws, including HIPAA, which protects patients’ privacy. OCR investigations can be strenuous. And even when no violations are found, medical providers and facilities may exhaust significant financial and workforce resources because of the investigation.
If the allegations are determined to be true, both the nurse and the employer could face exposure to administrative and legal ramifications. These disputed allegations should remind medical facilities, administrators, and providers to perform routine training on privacy, HIPAA standards, and acceptable behavior in the heavily regulated healthcare industry. Social media has its benefits, but improper use by employees can have significant and lasting implications for every party involved – including unsuspecting third parties.
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman assist businesses of all types and sizes in connection with HIPAA-related matters, privacy matters, and professional licensing matters – including Georgia medical, dental, and nursing board investigations, breach response, breach notification, OCR investigations, and resulting civil litigation. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.