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UPDATE 2 – Never mind Earlier: Messing with the gold standard. LAFD shuts down news website & social media claiming HIPAA concerns.



CA LA LAFD N&I site on hiatus

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More on 2012 HIPAA issues with LAFD

UPDATE 3

Make sure you read FireLawBlog.com's Curt Varone's primer on HIPAA and his view of this hysteria. Also, here's a further explanation on how this latest HIPAA showdown came about. It's from AP's Robert Jablon:

Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said that during a Wednesday meeting with a deputy city attorney and the Fire Department's privacy officer, he was told that he couldn't release certain information because it might violate the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

"We could not speak to anything that would even remotely identify a person" who had been injured, including detailing whether a vehicle in a crash was, for instance, a school bus or municipal bus, Humphrey said.

"I was told in an earthquake, I could not provide information unless it was a federally declared emergency," he said.

When the pre-dawn fire erupted, Humphrey said he had no choice but to halt the department's Twitter feed, which automatically relays to other social networks.

At 11:35 a.m., the city attorney's office told the department to return to its previous practices on releasing information, Humphrey said.

A city official familiar with details of the Wednesday meeting said the discussion was misunderstood and the Fire Department overreacted.

The city attorney's office said in a statement that "The Fire Department's decision to reinstate its Twitter account and release details on this morning's fire is the right thing to do."

UPDATE 2

At about 1:45 PM Los Angeles time, the following tweet was sent from Brian Humphrey on @LAFD. So never mind, at least until someone goes HIPAA crazy again on the West Coast:

CA LA LAFD back up.

Here's how it went down this afternoon according to Kevin Roderick at LA Observed:

As soon as the Times called to ask what's up, Mayor Eric Garcetti put out a statement (through spokesman Yusef Robb) telling the LAFD basically "don't be ridiculous."

"Frankly, it's ridiculous. We immediately told the department to fix this, and it's being fixed. The twitter account is going back online, and they're going to be giving out the information they're supposed to be giving out."

Robb said the fire chief learned about the policy change from the media. I guess whoever made the original call at the LAFD didn't know that the mayor is an inveterate user and admirer of Twitter as a communications tool. Shortly after the mayor's statement landed, the fire department surrendered and re-activated its feed @LAFD.

UPDATE

What I failed to notice but others, including my friend Bill Boyd, pointed out, is that just hours before this edict came down, word arrived that LAFD's Brian Humphrey will be honored in the spring by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) for his work in social media and public information. Coincidence? Here's more from Kevin Roderick, LA Observed:

The SPJ will also recognize LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey "for his dedication to providing access to reporters." The group says: "[Humphrey] has worked to bring transparency to the Los Angeles Fire Department through social media. These efforts include a robust Twitter account, blog and even a Web camera that often shows Humphrey at work."

EARLIER

Absolute craziness in Los Angeles, where the agency that paved the way for how a modern public safety organization communicates with its citizens and the press once again has it's operation shut down. This time there is a notice on the Los Angles Fire Department News & Information website and it's social media platforms that they are on "temporary hiatus". And yes, according to news accounts, it appears to be more HIPAA BS.

For the second time in as many years, a Los Angeles city lawyer is being blamed for reading a lot more into the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act than most level-headed people/lawyers/chiefs/PIOS across the country. HIPAA is being used as an excuse not to keep the public informed about the basics of an emergency. It's so bad that veteran PIO Brian Humphrey was unable to to acknowledge details about evacuations and injuries from this morning's double fatal fire in Echo Park.

From City News Service via San Bernardino Sun:

Early this morning, LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey described the damage to the building as “significant” but declined to release details on such aspects as evacuations and injuries, even any involving firefighters, based on what he described as instructions received Wednesday from the City Attorney’s Office.

“All of our social media is on hiatus until we get clarity and develop a plan of how orders are to be implemented in regard to our social media presence,” Humphrey said.

In a subsequent interview this morning, LAFD Battalion Chief Steve Ruda – - recently appointed as the department’s new Community Liaison officer to oversee the agency’s community and media relations functions — told City News Service that his department now had instituted the policy because of concerns about violating the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a medical privacy law enacted in 1996.

Ruda said he and his staff met recently with a deputy city attorney who told them that under HIPAA, “we were not allowed to divulge any information that would compromise (a patient’s) privacy.”

Until the policy was re-introduced, the LAFD had been releasing the information — except during a brief period in late March and early April of 2012, when then-LAFD Chief Brian Cummings ordered his department to stop releasing incident locations and injury information to the public.

Cummings cited an oral opinion from City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office that the LAFD risked violating HIPAA.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • bigblue

    I hate to say it but they are correct. I just took a HIPPA training class at my sqaud and according to HIPPA even if I say there was an accident at "Main Street" and "5th" street that is a violtion of HIPPA. As someone that knows the person invloved in the accident could figure this out. While I don't agree with it becasue now the website I ran for the squad that gave the basic information about Rescues or accidents we ran leaving out any patient information has been basically shut down. I always looked at providing this information as a way to keep the public informed about the doings of our squad so they don't think we never do anything. Honestly the public used to love seeing what we were doing and often commented on how up to date we kept the site. Now everything is a HIPPA violation according to the new HIPPA rules. Unfortunately or fortunately however you may see it my squad is following the rules to a t. So like LA our social media is essentially shut down unless its training a public event or some emergency that we can post about that will not violate HIPPA. 

    • dave statter

      I think you will find plenty of lawyers and others who disagree with that reading of HIPAA. To not let the public know that a wreck occurred at 5th and Main, or for that matter an active shooter who has shot people as at 6th and Main, is irresponsible.

    • stuart

      HIPAA relates to patient information. It doesn't apply to public information related to public agencies. A car wreck, a canyon rescue, a structure fire are not covered under HIPAA as they aren't patients….they are events that are public information. The police will release the same information. The traffic reporter will release the same information. HIPAA only applies to patients and patients' information. 

    • BH

      I just took a HIPPA training class at my sqaud and according to HIPPA even if I say there was an accident at "Main Street" and "5th" street that is a violtion of HIPPA.

       

      Someone who can't even spell HIPAA probably shouldn't be giving opinions on it.  Your trainer is an idiot.  

    • Itsme

      All the more reason to never take advice from someone who cannot even get the name right.  It is HIPAA, not HIPPA.  HIPPA is some strange strain of HIPPO.

      And your class simply was wrong.  Simply because it is taught at a class does not mean it is right.  Consult a real attorney.  Better yet, contact Brian Humphrey with LAFD, he can give you all the information you need.  

      Brian has always been more than helpful.

       

       

       

  • puzzled

    Most Lawyers should be shot at 6th and Main..Curt, you are one of the few who are exempt.

    bigblue, if using the logic that given an address of an incident is a HIPPA violation, than ANY department which dispatches calls over the radio is in violation of HIPPA..

    I'm glad to see smarter heads prevail in LA

  • Irdrunk

    Future on scene reports =. There is not a building fire/ accident/ terrorist/ redskins win/ incident going on be hind me. The fire fighters, EMS, police are here for a meeting of the minds. Move along nothing to report. 

  • that guy

    Bigblue: You just took a HIPAA class and spelled it wrong six times (and other words were mangled in the process). Maybe you need forther information? http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/coveredentities/index.html

    • Spellcheck

      You mean "further info"?

      • that guy

        Well, ya got me there. Nobody wants to be that guy.

  • Ted

    Don't give out info that can identify the actual patient down to the state of residence level. 

    So, adult male transported with minor injuries from 5th and main is very acceptable. 

    The above statement contains no PHI. Heck, the patient could have uncle Igor who is here visiting from Russia. Point is that call location is just call location, not residence. 

     

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  • 19262007

    You know what's great about this site?  It proves that not all the fire service retards are only in DC.

    • gottaloveit

      ^ comment of the day right there.

  • RJ in florida

    I find it hard to believe that any public service agency is gonna getburned for reporting something (minus the patient information) to public knowlodge. Like Dave said not reporting more serious occurances (even when people get hurt) is irresponsible