Is it a violation to inform jail staff of appointment for psych treatment?

by Melanie
(Texas)

I work as a case worker at a Mental Health Facility. We contract with the jail and often have clients who end up in jail, then continue mental health services in order to get medications and have caseworkers see them in jail.

A current client of mine was recently sent to jail. The protocol states that while in jail, the current case worker is not to see the inmate, and that they must go through a crisis line in order to be seen. Support staff was unaware of this, and confirmed an appointment with the jail nurse.

I, as the case worker, was unable to reach the nurse to inform her that I was unable to see the client. I then called the jail transportation unit and confirmed they were bringing him to the appointment, and informed them not to transport said client because I could not see him.

Was that a violation of HIPAA? No personal health information was given out about the client, only that he had an appointment with a mental health case worker. Is anyone connected to the jail allowed to know about the client's mental health treatment? Who is allowed to know about the client's treatment? Thank you for any info you can give.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Is it a violation to inform jail staff of appointment for psych treatment?":

Melanie (Texas):

It is vital for jail administrators and jail personnel to know about an inmate's mental condition, especially when that mental condition might result in harm to the inmate or others.

Failure to provide salient mental health information, which results in harm to the patient or others, may subject the covered entity to damages for injuries sustained by the inmate, or to others injured by the inmate.

This, of course, presumes the injuries occurred because the inmate wasn't properly treated because of a failure in communication between the covered entity or its staff, and the jail facility. With that said, only medical information vital to the safety of the inmate and other inmates and to the jail staff, including guards, nurses, etc., may be disseminated.

From the facts you present, there doesn't seem to exist any violation of HIPAA. You, nor any member of your staff, disseminated medical information about the inmate other than to discuss tentative appointments and transportation.

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,

Judge Calisi

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