News & Events

REGION: Tri-City moves to fire employees over Facebook posts

Union rep calls for evidence against nurses

Tri-City Medical Center’s chief executive said Monday that he intends to fire five employees, and discipline a sixth, who allegedly discussed patient information on an Internet site.

In a statement released by the hospital, CEO Larry Anderson said Tri-City will pursue termination hearings for the five employees who "used social media to post their personal discussions concerning hospital patients."

Tri-City has not specified what kind of patient information was posted online, but Anderson said no patient names, photographs or similar identifying information appear to have been used.

Hospital officials confirmed last month that they were investigating a possible breach of patient privacy that may have occurred on Facebook, the popular online social networking site with more than 400 million members.

On Monday, hospital spokeswoman Courtney Berlin declined to say what jobs the six employees hold at Tri-City.

However, Max Carbuccia, a labor representative for the California Nurses Association, said six registered nurses at the hospital were put on administrative leave by hospital administrators "about three weeks ago."

He said the employees still have not seen the evidence against them, and that all deny posting information about specific patients online.

"We’ve been saying to the hospital, ‘Show us where we’ve been discussing patients,’" Carbuccia said.

He said that so far, the employees have not received any information from Tri-City that supports the accusations.

Carbuccia said the nurses may have sometimes discussed how to handle different types of patients, but only in an educational context.

"It would be like ‘Hey, has anybody ever seen this type of situation?’" Carbuccia said. "But it would have been in a hypothetical way, not about a specific patient."

Because it is a public hospital, Tri-City’s employees are entitled to a hearing —- sometimes called a "Skelly hearing," in reference to the law that requires it —- before they can be fired.

The labor representative said no date has been set for that hearing.

Hospitals nationwide have begun to struggle with what their employees can and cannot share on Facebook.

The issue is particularly important for health care workers because of strict health care privacy rules enacted in 2003.

Those rules —- known as the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 —- forbid health care workers from obtaining or sharing personally identifiable information about patients.

Protected information includes patient names, identification numbers, room numbers, photographs, diagnosis or anything else that might be used to violate a patient’s privacy.

Call staff writer Paul Sisson at 760-901-4087.