After HIPAA complaint, Monroeville officials review emergency-alert system
In the wake of an allegation that personal medical information was disclosed by the former police chief, Monroeville officials are taking a closer look at who receives emergency-alert information from the dispatch center via texts and emails.
Assistant police Chief Steve Pascarella filed a written complaint that accused former Chief George Polnar of passing along details about an emergency medical call to someone who wasn't involved in the emergency.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was asked in August to investigate the situation.
Polnar retired as chief in 2010 but remained on a list of first responders who receive direct alerts of fire and medical emergencies.
When officials realized the first-responders list was outdated, Polnar and at least 10 other names were purged from the list, and direct texts and emails were put on hold for about a week as fire departments submitted new contact lists, said current police Chief Doug Cole.
Current first responders were added to an updated communications process that eliminates the municipality as a go-between in alerting individual responders, Cole said.
Fire and medical first responders in Pitcairn and at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville have yet to be added to the list.
Though officials agree that the list should be updated from time to time, they maintain that the situation did not violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as is alleged in the complaint.
The information that Polnar is accused of releasing included a patient's age, gender and address, but Monroeville fire Chief Ron Harvey said that information is broadcast over open radio frequencies.
“There's nothing that comes over (the direct messaging) that's any different than what any person in ‘scanner land' hears every day,” Harvey said.
“He was just trying to be a good friend and tell his neighbor. In the grand scheme of things, who cares?”
Polnar has not responded to The Times Express' request for comment.
Pascarella referred all questions to solicitor Bruce Dice.
After researching HIPAA and past legal documents, Dice said that no laws were broken.
“The critical component of this is the patient's name,” Dice said.
“If we were giving out the patient's name, I would have difficulty with that. But when a name is not printed or put out over the air, it's clear this person is not identified.”
Cole said the department has yet to get a call or a visit from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Harvey said it's tough to maintain a list of active responders due to the nature of a municipal fire department.
Most are volunteers, and some are college students who move on to other things.
Harvey said that among his list of duties, including emergency response, equipment testing and training, the contact list is somewhere near the bottom, as far as priorities are concerned.
“The paging list doesn't hurt anybody,” Harvey said.
“The last thing on my mind today is whether that guy is off the dispatch list.”
Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Monroeville Mall files suit against restaurant owners
- Gateway School Board member details plan to go after property tax scofflaws
- Late registrations prompt shuffling of students at Gateway
- ‘Kind Campaign’ sets focus at Gateway High School on preventing female bullying
- Gateway grad set to sizzle as Miami Heat dancer