The D.C. Fire Department says it has some “very serious concerns” about a letter paramedic Jon Botwin wrote to the D.C. city council this week–concerns that have to do with patient confidentiality.
In the letter, Botwin reveals a few facts about the efforts to save the life of a five-month-old girl and discloses some information about her condition.
The question is–did it cross a line?
Jon Botwin has been taken off the street and told by the fire department he will have no contact with patients until further notice.
Instead, the paramedic sat in a room at fire department headquarters Friday and did nothing.
At issue is an allegation the paramedic may have disclosed too much information about the little girl he was writing about and broke what are widely known as HIPAA rules.
Botwin thinks not and a reading of the rules appears to back him up.
Jon Botwin is a paramedic assigned to Engine 26 on Rhode Island Avenue Northeast. A week ago Thursday, he along with other EMT’s and paramedics tried to save the life of five-month-old Zariah Bolden. The first responders managed to recover a pulse but the little girl died over the weekend.
In his letter to the council expressing deep frustration with what happened that day Botwin tells the lawmakers the girl is five months old, was in cardiac arrest and later died. He also disclosed the girl’s father called 911 but he never mentioned names, addresses or other identifying information.
“From the training I have received through the department it doesn’t appear to me there was anything in there that was a HIPAA violation”, said Union second vice president Dabney Hudson.
In fact, as the union points out, anyone listening to a scanner that day would have heard the exact address, the condition of the child and her age.
The D.C. police report contains even more information including the father’s name, the child’s date of birth and the hospital she was taken to.
In addition, the HIPAA rules seem to validate the paramedic’s dire warning to the council with this clause: “Covered entities may disclose protected health information that they believe is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a person or the public, when such disclosure is made to someone they believe can prevent or lessen the threat”.
What baffles the union is the fire department’s decision to take Botwin off the street four days after the letter was sent.
“It means that the number of paramedics that we have to respond on a daily basis is going to dwindle farther down from where we are, you know we are downgrading several medic units, several engine companies, EMS supervisors are taken out of service on a daily basis, we are holding paramedics over, we are not allowing them to go home because we don’t have enough of them”, said Hudson.
After being notified he was being taken off the street, Jon Botwin briefly spoke with Fox 5′s Bob Barnard about his situation.
“Unfortunately at this point I would have to ask the Fire Chief for permission to continue the interview, it’s just a procedural process and I would hate it to be construed as giving an interview without permission”, said Botwin
“But what you wrote in that letter to the city council is how you feel is that’s right? Asked Barnard.
The fire department says it placed Jon Botwin on a non-patient contact status after the privacy officer expressed “very serious concerns. The same officer also contacted council members and asked them not to share Botwin’s letter with anyone—even though it’s all over the internet.
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DC update: Firefighter/Paramedic Botwin speaks out about desk duty as investigation is underway over HIPAA concerns over staffing letter.