A renowned New York City hospital has agreed to pay the federal government a whopping $2.2 million to settle a probe into alleged "egregious disclosure" of protected health information of two patients during filming of ABC News health series.
New York Presbyterian Hospital, among other things, "allowed the ABC crew to film someone who was dying and another person in significant distress, even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop," the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said Thursday in announcing the deal.
OCR said the filming was done without obtaining the prior consent of the individuals.
In addition to the $2.2 million settlement for potential violations, New York Presbyterian agreed to a "comprehensive corrective action plan" and to be monitored for two years by the Office of Civil Rights to make sure the hospital complies with federal rules, commonly called HIPAA, that protect the privacy of patient health records.
The ABC crew was at the hospital in April 2011 to obtain footage for the show "NY Med," an eight-part ABC News series that aired in 2012, and then again with new episodes in 2014.
The Office of Civil Rights said that it it received a complaint against the hospital in 2013 about filming that was done on April 28, 2011.
That is the same date that a Manhattan man named Mark Chanko was filmed while dying at the hospital after being hit by a garbage truck, according to a cease and desist letter Chanko's son sent to the hospital in 2012, which is on the ProPublica news site.
Chanko's son Kenneth complained to HHS about HIPAA violations by the hospital after his mother, Mark's widow recognized her dying husband while watching an episode of NY Med even though Mark's face had been blurred by the show, the New York Times reported last year. ABC later scrubbed "the segment involving Mr. Chanko from its website, DVDs and future viewings," the Times reported.
Last month, the highest appeals court in New York State allowed the Chanko family's suit against New York Presbyterian, which alleges a breach of patient-doctor confidentiality, to proceed. But the court dismissed ABC News as a defendant against claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
HHS's Office of Civil Rights found that New York Presbyterian "failed to safeguard protected health information and allowed ABC film crews virtually unfettered access to its health care facility."
That access effectively created "an environment where [protected health information] could not be protected from impermissible disclosure to the ABC film crew and staff."
"By allowing individuals receiving urgent medical care to be filmed without their authorization by members of the media, NYP's actions blatantly violate the HIPAA Rules, which were specifically designed to prohibit the disclosure of individual's [protected health information] including images, in circumstances such as these. "
"This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients' privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization," said Jocelyn Samuels, OCR's Director. "We take seriously all complaints filed by individuals, and will seek the necessary remedies to ensure that patients' privacy is fully protected."
In a statement, New York Presbyterian said it reached the settlement with OCR "in order to bring closure to OCR's review process." But the hospital also said it "continues to maintain that the filming of this documentary program did not violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule."
"Our participation in the ABC News documentary program 'NY Med' was intended to educate the public and provide insight into the complexities of medical care and the daily challenges faced by our dedicated and compassionate medical professionals," the hospital said.
"This program, and the others that preceded it, garnered critical acclaim, and raised the public's consciousness of important public health issues, including organ transplantation and donation. It also vividly depicted how our emergency department medical team works tirelessly every day to save patients' lives."
A spokeswoman for ABC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.