Supreme Court Judge Rules that Patient Records Must be Disclosed by Organ Procurement Organization

Patient records held by the New York Organ Donor Network must be turned over to a plaintiff, and that the request cannot be denied based on HIPAA, following a ruling made by a New York Supreme Court Judge.

Patrick McMahon claims he was removed from his role of Transplant Coordinator by the New York Organ Donor Network following official complaints he made about organ harvesting from four patients who were still displaying clear signs of life and had not yet been declared legally dead.

The New York Organ Donor Network argues that the plaintiff was removed for poor  work performance while he was still a probationary member of staff. The allegations about the procurement of organs have also been denied by the organization.

Mr. McMahon asked the New York Organ Donor Network turn over the medical records of the four patients as they are ‘material and necessary’ to prove that the patients showed signs of brain activity at the time the organs were harvested.  The New York Organ Donor Network had, in the past, denied McMahon’s request. Instead they provided contact details of the patients’ next of kin, informing McMahon that he would need to obtain the appropriate consent forms allowing the release of the information relating to these patients.

McMahon claims he made efforts to obtain consent forms, but despite his best efforts, was unable to obtain the authorizations. Without access to the medical history of patients, McMahon is unable to provide the necessary proof related to his claims in relation to the legal action.

He, Mr McMahon, claimed that the New York Organ Donor Network is not a HIPAA-covered entity and therefore would not be violating HIPAA-Rules by allowing access to the patients’ records.

The New York Organ Donor Network agreed that it is not an body covered by HIPAA Rules, but that it has a duty to maintain the confidentiality of patients medical history. The defendant also pointed out it has agreed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with hospitals in which access to PHI was allowed in order to facilitate the organ donation process. The New York Organ Donor Network argues that “it would defeat the purpose of HIPAA if it were required to comply with plaintiffs’ requests.”

Despite the fact that HIPAA Rules protect the privacy of patients, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth ruled that the New York Organ Donor Network is not a HIPAA-covered entity. She added that, and even if it were, HIPAA Rules do not prevent document disclosure. The Judge explained that organ procurement organizations (OPOs) are permitted to be provided with PHI and that MOUs “seek to assure the covered entities who provide information to defendant that protected health information will be kept confidential.”

However, Bluth went on to say, “MOUs between [the] defendant and certain hospitals do not compel this Court to deny plaintiffs motion. (The) Defendant failed to identify a federal regulation or case law that would prevent this Court from requiring disclosure”. She ruled the documents must be turned over as requested by the plaintiff.

Explaining the reasoning behind her ruling, Bluth said “HHS could have promulgated a rule stating that any protected health information received by an OPO from a covered entity must remain subject to HIPAA’s privacy protections as if the OPO were a covered entity; HHS did not.”

She also pointed out that HHS could have included OPOs in its definition of covered entities but it did not do this.

Bluth outlined that “Providing this information might negatively impact these MOUs. But that possibility merely underscores the need for additional federal regulations addressing OPOs and their relationship with HIPAA.”

The New York Organ Donor Network must provide access to the patients’ records no later than April 26, 2017. McMahon has been prohibited from using the information in the medical records for anything other than this litigation process.