32 Allina Employees Fired Over Privacy Violations

A hospital system spokesman said that 28 Unity Hospital employees and four Mercy Hospital employees looked at the electronic medical records of patients who were treated following a mass overdose incident-which violates a policy that only allows such access on a need-to-know basis.

Thirty-two people employed by Allina Hospitals & Clinics were fired Thursday for allegedly violating patient privacy.

Hospital system spokesman David Kanihan told Twin Cities Business that the employees-28 from Unity Hospital and four from Mercy Hospital-looked at the electronic medical records of patients treated following a mass drug overdose incident that occurred in March.

Allina has a “clear-cut policy” that strictly prohibits employees from looking at such records unless they have a legitimate reason for doing so, Kanihan said. He added that Allina has well-defined rules spelling out exactly when it's appropriate for workers to access patient records-and all employees are aware of them. The employees who were dismissed didn't have reason to access the files.

“We take our responsibility to safeguard patient safety very seriously,” he said, adding that Allina has a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding patient privacy violations.

Kanihan said that Allina's computer system keeps track of when electronic records are accessed and by whom. That's how officials were able to determine that there had been instances of inappropriate access.

“We did our due diligence” in thoroughly investigating and verifying the foul play before the 32 employees were dismissed, he said.

The patients whose records were improperly accessed made headlines in March in connection with a mass overdose incident that occurred in Blaine. Eleven young adults were hospitalized as a result, and a 19-year-old died. Patients involved in the incident were treated at both Unity Hospital in Fridley and Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, according to Kanihan.

Kanihan declined to reveal the positions held by the employees who were fired. He also wouldn't discuss how the hospital system would handle their absences and whether and when they would be replaced, other than to say: “We have a plan in place to mitigate the impact of this.”

This isn't the first time that Allina has fired employees over privacy violations, but Kanihan isn't aware of any previous dismissals involving such a large number of people.

Allina is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that owns 11 hospitals and 42 Allina-branded medical clinics. Abbott Northwestern Hospital is its largest hospital.