Saturday, November 27, 2004

Follow-up: Las Vegas hospital responds to article on hospitalized orphan

This is a followup to an earlier posting, in which I linked to a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal. (PIPEDA and Canadian Privacy Law: Read the privacy law before implementing an inhuman policy.) The story in the paper certainly left the impression that the hospital in question did not allow relatives and friends to know that the child was in the hospital. Now, the CEO of the hospital weighs in to give the hospital's position. I'm in no position to judge whose account is correct (I'm leaning toward the hospital, but what do I know?), but readers should take a close read of the CEO's letter: -- Opinion: LETTERS: UMC policies protected, comforted boy:

"To the editor:

I'd like to correct the record concerning your news reports and editorial about the young boy who witnessed the brutal slaying of his mother and became a victim of violence himself while trying to protect her.

As the only Level 1 trauma center in Southern Nevada, University Medical Center had the responsibility of responding to this boy's medical needs as well as his emotional well-being.

The articles and editorial (" `Privacy' law fails brave boy," Nov. 13) suggested that this boy was left alone to deal with his injuries and the emotional turmoil of his loss. I want to assure everyone that this was simply not the case.

It also was suggested that UMC ought to have allowed total strangers to come into the facility to sit with this patient. While grateful for these offers of assistance, I'd like to explain why this was not practical.

First, UMC employs three certified child life specialists who are assigned to respond to the emotional needs of any pediatric patient who requires their services. In this particular situation, a child life specialist was immediately assigned to the patient upon admission to the hospital.

It should also be pointed out that this patient was recovering in a specialized pediatric intensive care unit, where the nursing care is one-on-one for each patient. Therefore, at no time was this child ever left alone or unattended. In fact, I can assure you that we were there to provide comfort and assistance and to hold his hand during a time of immeasurable grief and loss.

Much has been written about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act being the rationale for not publicly disclosing the patient's name and condition. The reality is, even if there were no HIPAA regulations, there have always been patient privacy protocols any hospital would follow. I think we all can agree that hospitals must do all that they can to guard the privacy of their patients and to ensure that their medical information be kept confidential. Additionally, this boy was a witness to a murder, so an extra layer of caution needed to be maintained to protect him.

We take very seriously our slogan, "UMC: The Symbol of Excellence." We believe that in this case, we lived up to that slogan's significance. We saved a life. We cared for a poor child's emotional well-being with personal attention and care. We found a relative who could come sit by his bedside. In this case, as in all cases, our first priority was with the patient. I thought your readers would like to know.



The writer is chief executive officer of University Medical Center in Las Vegas. "

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