Health Law

Tipster tells police missing man was hospitalized; staff refused to say due to privacy law


When worried friends reported an 81-year-old man was missing from his home on Monday, one of the first things police in Salem, Ore., did was contact local hospitals.

There was no sign of Thomas Dill there, so authorities and friends kept searching. After two days, an anonymous tipster told police on Wednesday that Dill had been at Salem Hospital the whole time. However, staff hadn’t revealed his presence when police called for fear that doing so would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, reports the Statesman Journal.

“It’s a cumbersome law,” Lt. Steve Birr told the newspaper, adding: “One of the difficult things is that we have people with mental illnesses, and they could end up in a mental health facility, and you would never know it, and they would never tell you.”

It would have been legal under HIPAA for the hospital to tell police that Dill was a patient if he had been under criminal investigation, the newspaper says.

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