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An investigation uncovered a series of HIPAA violations involving members of the Ottumwa Fire Department in Ottumwa. 


What happened? 

The City of Ottumwa conducted a two-month investigation into three members of the Ottumwa Fire Department - Derek Fye, Dillon McPherson, and Captain Bill Keith. The investigation found that Fye and McPherson engaged in conduct while on duty that violated the department's standard operating guidelines. Additionally, they violated guidelines related to divulging patient information, including medical history, patient conditions, and other details related to emergency medical responses. These actions were considered HIPAA violations due to the nature of patient privacy infringed upon. 

Captain Bill Keith was found to have failed in his leadership responsibilities. He was terminated for not effectively leading his subordinates, showing indifference toward enforcing departmental values and standards, and allowing unauthorized individuals to ride in fire vehicles. He was also found to have violated patient privacy and failed to promptly report instances of unprofessional conduct by another employee.


Why it matters?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows for the disclosure of PHI to facilitate patient treatment. Firefighters, in their role as EMS providers, are permitted to share relevant medical information with other healthcare professionals, hospitals, and facilities involved in treating the patient. Fye and McPherson violated the "communications with the public" section of the department's operating guidelines by divulging patient information, including medical histories, conditions, and other details related to emergency responses. Such disclosures, if made to unauthorized individuals (friends, family members, etc.), would likely be considered HIPAA violations, as they involve the unauthorized release of PHI to individuals not involved in patient care or treatment.


What they're saying

In a press release, the city of Ottumwa said, "We take all instances of misconduct very seriously. This decision was not made lightly. We expect all employees to adhere to our city's policies and maintain the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure that the city remains a safe and ethical environment for our staff."


What's next?

Both Fye and Captain Keith, being terminated, have the option to request a hearing before the civil service commission to review the city's decision, as allowed by Iowa law. In contrast, McPherson chose to resign instead of facing termination. There were no settlement or separation agreements for any of the three individuals involved, as confirmed by city officials.

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