Call this one a little “follow up on the story” post, a violation of my current practice of only posting brief essays on this blog. It has been more than ten weeks since things first blew up at Brewster Village when my former blog became the buzz among the staff. The first issue to emerge was that even though I had referred to residents only by the first letter of their first name, staff could easily identify them through my descriptions and stories. This led to both internal and external HIPAA investigations, and I was relieved of duties while they were conducted.
A second issue then emerged, one that nobody at BV or the county had previously had on their radar. After a resident died, I often wrote a brief tribute to them, including a picture when available. It turns out that HIPAA protection does not cease merely because you are six feet under. Who knew? You may be dead, but at least your health insurance cannot be canceled.
I have had virtually no contact with Brewster Village during this time. I have had several phone chats with the county compliance officer, and today had a meeting with him and the county’s corporate counsel. They have decided that they are required to contact everyone who was ever mentioned in the blog, no matter how discreetly, and inform them that their privacy has been violated. This includes living residents, guardians of those not competent to manage their own affairs, and guardians of deceased residents. The letter will note that the violations took place in the context of a personal journal and that the intent was to honor and affirm them, but that a violation took place none the less. They will apologize, and hope that no-one is angered to the point of litigation.
It was a civil and businesslike conversation, but painful for me. In the course of the conversation I learned that my volunteer position at Brewster Village has been permanently eliminated by the administrator. I had pretty much assumed that was, or would be, the case, but it would have been nice to hear it directly from him. I imagine he is not the happiest guy in the world right now, since it is documented that he was aware of the blog, had read portions of it some time ago, and had given permission for me to continue. I hope a point may come where we can have a face-to-face conversation. I would also value an opportunity to apologize personally to any residents or staff who have been hurt in any way, but it was made clear today that this is not under my control.
So now I wait to see how the next part of the story unfolds: if there is such a thing as “closure” (I have always been suspicious of the term; I am not convinced there is ever true closure in this life) it remains some distance off. When I am certain that all dust has settled I will ponder a new way to invest myself in significant volunteer service. Sadly, it will not likely be in nursing home chaplaincy: imagine trying to explain all this to the director of another facility!
Brewster Village has been central to my world for these past two years, and there is deep grief in knowing that I will not be a part of its life in the future. Sixty years old and – sad to say – my hindsight is still a lot better than my foresight.
Work and Dementia
2 years ago