Workers at two hospitals disciplined for violations involving patients' genitals

Workers at two hospital systems were disciplined after inappropriately viewing patients' genitals.

Story highlights

  • Doctors at a Pittsburgh hospital were suspended after some took photos of a patient's genitals
  • Nurses at a Denver facility were disciplined for inappropriately discussing a deceased patient's genitalia

(CNN)Numerous medical professionals were disciplined for viewing patients' genitals while they were unconscious or deceased, according to reports detailing separate incidents at two major US health systems.

In December, a man went to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital for surgery to "remove a foreign body" that caused a genital injury, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Health report.
A "crowd" of UPMC Bedford nurses and doctors "lined up at the door" of the operating room to take photos and videos of the man's genitals while he was under anesthesia, according to the report.
    The material taken on personal cell phones "had no clinical justification," and staffers "shared those videos and photographs to others uninvolved with the patient's care," the report says.
    A couple of the employees in the room tried to curb the situation and stop the photos, according to employee interviews in the report.
    "We are a small hospital, it is commonplace for everyone in the facility to know what cases are coming in. It was a medical curiosity. I respected the patient, I did say, 'Stop, this is a HIPAA violation.' I could not hold anyone back, in the spirit of a medical anomaly I told them they could come in once the patient was asleep," one employee said in an investigation interview.
    HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, provides for patients' medical privacy.
    Hospital officials flagged the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, launching state and internal investigations.
    The hospital's CEO initially issued a seven-day suspension to the attending physician and another physician who was in the room. When the internal committee completed its investigation, the attending physician received another week of suspension and a few hours of mandatory HIPAA training.
    The other doctor, who wasn't involved in the patient's care and not meant to be in the OR, was suspended another 28 days and ordered to receive additional HIPAA training.
    The disciplinary action will remain in the personnel files of the employees involved, the report says, but their names will not be made public.
    UPMC Bedford also appointed a new surgical services nursing director and conducted policy reviews and mandatory staff retraining as a result of the incident, according to the report.
    The state required no further discipline.
    The hospital system has a strict policy against photography not intended for educational purposes or for the benefit of the patient, public relations senior manager Rick Pietzak said in a statement.
    "The behavior of these few individuals was abhorrent and intolerable per our policies and standards. Upon discovery, we immediately reported it to the Department of Health, conducted our own investigation, and took disciplinary action, with our corrective action plan approved by the DOH. Although no hospital and no company can prevent every employee from making mistakes or violating policies, we try to do everything possible to protect the health, privacy and dignity of our patients," Pietzak said.
    The Pennsylvania Department of Health declined to comment on the report due to patient privacy issues, spokeswoman April Hutcheson said.

    Another incident in Denver

    In April, nurses on the night shift at Denver Health Medical Center were caught making inappropriate comments about a male patient's genitalia, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The man, who was in his 40s, died within hours of being at the hospital.
    Nurses admitted that they viewed his genitalia repeatedly while discussing "characteristics of the patient's genitalia," the report says.
    One nurse said others encouraged them "to go to the patient's room to observe his genitalia because the patient's body would soon be going to the morgue." They left their post in another unit to unzip the body bag and take a look for themselves, the report says.
    Denver Health Medical Center officials reported the incident to police and the state nursing board.
    Everyone on staff denied that photos were taken, and officials weren't able to substantiate photo evidence.
    Five nurses were placed on administrative leave but were eventually allowed to return to work. Four of the five still work at the hospital, according to spokeswoman Kelli Christensen.
    "Hospital management was notified by a concerned staff member who was working in the unit.
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    "Denver Health responded to this report immediately and the nurses in question were placed on investigatory leave. An internal Denver Health investigation resulted in disciplinary action against all those responsible for the incident and the patient's next of kin was notified," Denver Health Medical Center said in a statement.
    The hospital's risk management department told police that "Multiple staff members viewed the victim while he was incapacitated, including after he was deceased," according to a Denver Police Department incident report from May 8.
    Denver police also consulted the district attorney's office. "They determined there was insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed, no charges were filed, and referred the matter back to Denver Health to handle internally," said Ken Lane, communications director for the Denver District Attorney's Office.