After HIPAA complaint, Monroeville officials review emergency-alert system
By Kyle Lawson
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012
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When officials realized the first-responders list was outdated, Polnar and at least 10 other names were purged from the list, and direct texts and emails were put on hold for about a week as fire departments submitted new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 email@example.com.
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Are you saying Nick that Monroeville also records and logs all of our private information? Who has access to that information? If Monroeville is saving and storing patient health information, are all of their dispatchers HIPAA trained? Who else besides the dispatchers has access to this information?
Submitted by: Irv on Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Nick...It is a big issue because the Assistant Chief of Police filed a Federal complaint. He must have thought it was important It is also a big issue because the HIPAA Law was written to protect patients privacy and Monroeville did a poor job protecting those rights. The person who received the information, Polnar, is a former police officer and an employee of a HUGE health care provider, I assure you, he has had HIPAA training. Anything involving UPMC and patient privacy is huge because UPMC is huge. Any employee of UPMC should know about protecting patient privacy. And Nick, you are correct, it was not mentioned in this story that Polnar works for UPMC. It does, however, mention it in the Post-Gazette, the WTAE story and within the complaint itself, which is available on the PG story. Furthermore, the complaint mentions two things. It mentions that Polnar received the information and forwarded to yet another person that did not have authorization. It also mentions that the transmitting of the information was ONGOING.
Submitted by: Nick on Tuesday, October 30, 2012
First of all i don't see why it was even mentioned in the article that he works for UPMC it had nothing to do with the story, he was off work and he only used it to tell a friend. If he worked at Burger King or lowes I'd bet a grand it wouldn't had made the story. Also anybody can download the radio 911 app and listen to dispatches from all over, many people buy scanners or listen to it online so if people are so upset i can't imagine what they are going to do when they find this out. Also the same information that comes across in a page is what is dispatched over the 911 system sorry to burst your bubble. Id have to say from someone who worked fire/ems that every 9/10 dispatches would not most information such as infectious diseases or medications, heck most of the times the patient doesn't disclose that on scene. Mike i think you have to much time on your hands to imagine that the Municipality of Monroeville would be using that information. Besides the dispatch center logs all their calls so if they really wanted it the paging system isn't really a big issue in the large scale of things.
Submitted by: Kim on Sunday, October 28, 2012
The PG story said that the guy receiving the information works for UPMC. The first question I have is what was UPMC doing with the information. The next question is if Chief Harvey is responsible for the dispatch center, he needs to be fired for his ridiculous attitude. His attitude in this article is typical of his recent attitude when speaking before Council. Chief Harvey, if your overwhelming duties are too much for you to handle, maybe it is time to pass the dispatch center duties to the county, where they belong.
Submitted by: Mike on Thursday, October 25, 2012
Chief Harvey, here is why people should care. http://www.theledger.com/article/20121022/NEWS/121029798/1134?Title=Man-Pleads-in-Health-Information-Theft-Case Was the Monroeville information being given or sold to someone? I am sure one of the local hospitals would love to get their hands on this kind of information. The person who illegally received the information, according to the Post-Gazette, works for UPMC. I am curious as to why they have not commented in this story and the PG story. IS our information safe with Monroeville? Is our information safe with UPMC?
Submitted by: Mike on Thursday, October 25, 2012
"Who cares?" That is the comment from Chief Harvey, "who cares"? The Municipality needs to fire Chief Harvey. The residents care, that is who, Chief Harvey. Information sent over the radio in scanner land cannot be readily captured. Information that is sent in a digital format is very readily stored. The data can be captured, stored and sorted. Any kid with a spread sheet knows that. HIPAA states that you need to protect the identity of the patient. Having a patients age, sex and address makes it extremely easy to identify someone. If you are too busy to be concerned with our privacy, maybe we should find someone who can handle the job. Was the Municipality using this data and saving it? Could it have been used to prevent hiring someone with a chronic illness? Dispatchers ask about past medical history. Was a patients medication history transmitted to every first responder in Monroeville? How many people now know that a resident has a drug problem, maybe has AIDS or a psychiatric disorder? Was this data saved? Is Monroeville using this data in their hiring process? Monroeville is hiring police officers, was this data used during the hiring process? And this question is for Chief Harvey. Chief, if I have a serious medical problem, should I consider going to the hospital by private vehicle to avoid all of the first responders from knowing my past history? And, by the way, most of the information regarding the patient is NOT sent via scanner land. As you know, for many ambulance calls in Monroeville, the private information is sent via telelphone. HIPAA requires that ONLY those that need the information, receive the information. Your arrogance is typical of many in the public safety community in this town.