Searching for the sick and disabled

Found this interesting Poughkeepsie Journal article about the difficulties when it comes to looking for people who are sick and/or disabled, particularly adults with dementia. A major portion of Charley’s MPs are elderly people with memory loss, or adults with severe mental illness like schizophrenia.

The article highlights the case of a woman who went missing and turned up at a local shelter, disoriented and unable to remember who she was or where she was from. She was kept at a hospital for six weeks before someone identified her. This can happen “when information on missing and unidentified persons, specifically those with mental health issues, is not shared among health-care providers and law enforcement.”

I think it’s gotten a bit worse since the passage of the HIPAA act, the medical privacy act, several years ago. (The Poughkeepsie Journal article also talks about HIPAA.) If I recall correctly, there was an article I read about Rachel Rice, a woman with schizophrenia who disappeared seven years ago this month, that said she frequently wound run away from hospitals and other care settings. The staff would then notify her daughter, who would help look for her and know that she might show up at her house. But since the HIPAA law was passed, the hospital staff etc. were unable to tell Rachel’s daughter whenever she disappeared. My mother, who works in the health care field, has criticized the law on several occasions, saying it does more harm than good. I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion on the matter, though I in my own personal experience heath care workers tend not to strictly observe the law.

5 thoughts on “Searching for the sick and disabled

  1. Princess Shantae April 16, 2012 / 7:21 am

    My experience working in nursing facilities is that the doctors and the staff will notify the patient’s family of any changes or problems. I can’t imagine them not telling the next of kin that Grandma has up and wandered away from the home. But I guess with somebody who is not officially mentally incompetent, or somebody that’s not close with their family or says they don’t want family notified, there’s a limit to what they can report.

    • Meaghan April 16, 2012 / 10:06 am

      When I was in the hospital ER getting my hand stitched up last November, this one nurse went out and told my father what drugs I had taken. I was seriously annoyed, because I had specifically asked that he not be in the room so he would not find out what drugs I had taken. I decided not to file a complaint because (A) The nurse was actually trying to help, because I couldn’t remember one of the drugs in the combination pills and she thought Dad might know, which he in fact did and (B) She was pregnant and I did not want to be responsible for a pregnant woman losing her job.

  2. L April 19, 2012 / 1:38 am

    I have worked in the medical field my whole working life, psych for the 6. HIPAA is a huge PITA….exactly for the reasons, among others, mentioned in this case. Plus it is up to each facility to decide how to apply HIPAA too…ugh.

    • Meaghan April 19, 2012 / 2:10 am

      My parents have issues with it with me. In 2007, I finally got treatment for the severe depression I’ve suffered my whole life. In 2011, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Like what usually happens, it took a long time to get the medications and stuff just right so I stopped having episodes, and in the meantime I would occasionally just go batshit insane, off the deep end, without warning. My parents wanted to help but sometimes HIPAA prevented them from knowing things they wanted to know about my condition. Once I was in a hospital for two days and they didn’t know where I was and were about to report me missing before I finally steeled up the nerve and called them (I thought they would be mad at me; what can I say I wasn’t in my right mind at the time).

  3. Quinn April 19, 2012 / 5:47 pm

    I think HIPAA is a blessing and a burden; I worked in Medical Records for 3 years, and we had frustrating situations where parents couldn’t find out the status of their 18-year-old kids’ visits, or whether their friend had been admitted to the psychiatric unit. Generally, I imagine these people were honest and well-meaning, and the patients likely would’ve given consent if able; in that case, it was pretty shitty (to be fair, in the case of serious accidents when someone is in bad physical health, this is usually by-passed by doctors/nurses.)

    However, imagine if a potential employer had the ability to see if anyone had ever been hospitalized for mental issues? I’ve been on a psych floor twice, and though fine now (after treatment for major depression) I may not have gotten any jobs had they known about that. Also, consider the victims of domestic violence; often, their abusers stalk them. If they fled their abuser and went to a different city or state, and the abuser was able to track them by calling hospitals and pretending to be a concerned partner, that could have devastating effects on the safety of the victim. So it really goes both ways, I think.

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