06/29/10 — Former Wayne hospital employee files suit, claiming HIPPA violation

View Archive

Former Wayne hospital employee files suit, claiming HIPPA violation

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on June 29, 2010 1:46 PM

A former employee of Wayne and Johnston Memorial hospitals is suing both, alleging that private information about her health, protected by federal law, was spread by employees of both institutions.

Ann Marie Green Conerly eventually quit her job over what she described as harassment. She says the fallout destroyed her career and forced her into foreclosure proceedings on her home.

In the lawsuit, her attorney, Bert Diener of Snow Hill, alleges negligence and disregard for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA. The 1996 law prohibits covered health agencies from transmitting any "individually identifiable health information" without a patient's consent.

Representatives of both hospitals declined to comment.

Diener said there is limited case law in this state in cases of HIPAA violations.

"It's not a thing that a lot of people have done. I think we're fortunate in the fact that it (this case) gives us an opportunity to ... basically protect people's (health) information," he said.

The lawsuit also names three individuals who allegedly played a role in broadcasting information about a medication overdose involving Ms. Green Conerly to other staff members and questioned her about it inappropriately.

At least one person, former Johnston Memorial night nursing supervisor Michael Batts, was fired over handling of the incident, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that staff members at both hospitals discussed an incident involving an alleged medication overdose

When she returned to work, Ms. Green Conerly was "bombarded with questions and statements" about her hospital stay, the lawsuit says.

Asked if Batts' firing gave credence to the case, Ms. Green Conerly's lawyer said he believed it did.

"I would argue yes, absolutely ... they (Johnston Memorial) recognized something wrong happened, they tried to take corrective action," Diener said.

Diener said that the lawsuit is a stand for patients' rights.

"If you're really wondering, why does somebody bring one of these suits ... that's basically because somebody is harmed as a result," Diener said. "The only way it's going to be corrected is to call attention to it, to make sure this doesn't happen again."