Is a county government Human Resources Dept. a "business associate"?
(Denver, CO, USA)
I am a commissioned peace officer/investigator for a county government agency in the State of Colorado. I work for a county District Attorney's office and I carry a firearm as part of my job. I sought mental health therapy through a psychologist specializing in police and public safety psychology. The DA's Office pays for this service.
I needed to take a week off plus additional intermittent time as my therapy progressed, so I applied for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA leave application requires a diagnosis of the condition.
I contacted county human resources and asked if this information would be confidential or would be shared with the DA's office. I was told that it was confidential and would not be shared. I would not have gone forward with the therapy had I known that the information was going to be shared with my supervisors. I never gave permission for my medical information to be shared.
After 8 therapy sessions, I needed to ask the DA's office to pay for additional sessions. The DA's office authorizes this and not the county human resources department.
Upon learning that I was seeing a police psychologist and had taken FMLA leave for this purpose, the DA's office contacted the human resources department and requested the FMLA documentation from my therapist, which included the diagnosis of acute stress disorder.
Human resources contacted the county attorney, and my FMLA application and diagnosis provided by my therapist was released to the DA's office. I received a call from the human resources employee who had told me that my information would remain confidential. She explained that the information had been released to the DA's office and apologized.
I was called into my supervisor's office. He assured me that my confidential medical information had only been shared with five people in the DA's office and that it would remain confidential.
I was told to leave the office early and to return on Monday unarmed, until my psychologist could provide a statement to the effect that I was not considered a danger to myself or others. She did so, and I have returned to work armed.
My question is: Is the release of my FMLA application by county human resources to the County District Attorney's Office, containing my diagnosis, a HIPAA violation? Thank you very much for reviewing my question.
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ANSWER for "Is a county government Human Resources Dept. a "business associate"?":
A (Denver, CO, USA):
Unfortunately, "covered entities" are the only ones subject to HIPAA laws. Covered entities are primarily health care providers, including hospitals, physicians, mental health care professionals, and others in the medical field.
The Human Resources Department or District Attorney's office is not a covered entity. As a result, their actions are not subject to HIPAA rules and regulations.
At this point, inasmuch as you have been cleared to return to work, you might consider the consequences of pursuing this matter further. At this point it appears only 5 people know about it. If you decide to pursue it further, it is likely others will learn about your mental health issues.
Moreover, there is really little you can do. At this point inasmuch as a HIPAA violation hasn't occurred, you might only be able to file a complaint of some sort with the Human Resources Department or District Attorneys Office.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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