DC update: Firefighter/Paramedic Botwin speaks out about desk duty as investigation is underway over HIPAA concerns over staffing letter.


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Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

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.

“That’s correct”.

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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