New York hospital sued after faxing patient's HIV status to employer

A former patient of Spencer Cox Center for Health in New York City sued Spencer Cox Clinic, St. Luke's Hospital and Mount Sinai Health Network for $2.5 million, according to a lawsuit obtained by Becker's Hospital Review.

Here are seven things to know about the lawsuit.

1. The lawsuit, dated Sept. 9 and filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, alleges the three defendants of negligent infliction of emotional distress on the unnamed plaintiff, "John Doe." The lawsuit claims Spencer Cox — a part of St. Luke's Hospital, which is a hospital in the Mount Sinai Health Network — improperly faxed the plaintiff's HIV status to his employer.

2. The plaintiff sought treatment at Spencer Cox in February 2014, after being diagnosed with HIV, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff, upon deciding to switch his treatment to another clinic, requested Spencer Cox mail his records to his post office box or physical address Sept. 8, 2014.

3. Three days later, the director of operations at the plaintiff's place of employment allegedly handed the plaintiff his medical records at his desk, after they were faxed to the office. The medical records contained the plaintiff's HIV status, previous sexually transmitted disease diagnoses, history of physical abuse and sexual orientation, among other information.

"Spencer Cox received the request for plaintiff's medical records, ignored his request and merely sent the records back to the same number where the request originated without any authorization from plaintiff," the lawsuit alleges.

4. The lawsuit, filed with the plaintiff's attorneys at the New York City-based Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman, alleges the breach of protected health information caused the plaintiff severe emotional distress and economic hardship, citing the plaintiff's strained family relationships and decision to resign from his job after the unintended disclosure of his HIV status.

"Plaintiff was in a constant state of apprehension at work, never knowing which of his colleagues and supervisors had access to his intimate and personal information," the lawsuit alleges. "When the stress became too much to continue to bear on a daily basis, plaintiff obtained another job and resigned."

5. The plaintiff seeks damages and related relief in the amount of $2.5 million, according to the lawsuit.

6. Mount Sinai Health System emphasized its focus on patient privacy and security in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review. "We are working with HHS to meticulously review privacy and security policies and procedures, ensuring all necessary safeguards are in place to protect patient privacy. Compliance with [HIPAA] is a core tenent of the work of our medical professionals; and we will continue to be vigilant and committed in our adherence to the policy."

7. In May, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center — which operates the Institute for Advanced Medicine, formerly Spencer Cox — agreed to pay $387,200 to HHS and implement a corrective action plan as part of a HIPAA settlement to resolve allegations it inappropriately handled the plaintiff's sensitive health information. During its investigation, HHS' Office for Civil Rights also discovered the center was responsible for a related privacy breach nine months prior.

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