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New York Hospital Pays $2.2 Million For Violations Related To “ER Reality TV”

The ABC reality program “NY Med” purports to take “a deep dive into high stakes medicine through the eyes of unforgettable characters.” The series is filmed at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan as well as University Hospital in Newark, NJ. The “characters” the program follows includes a series of ER nurses as well as surgeons, including Dr. Mehmet Oz.

However, a recent ruling by the Office for Civil Rights with the federal Department of Health and Human Services ordered New York Presbyterian Hospital to pay $2.2 million for HIPAA violations which occurred during the filming of the show. The fine is related to the case of Mark Chanko, who was struck by a sanitation truck and taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital for emergency treatment. Medical staff attempted to save his life, but their efforts were unsuccessful and Mr. Chanko passed away. An ABC production crew filmed the entire course of treatment, without any consent from the patient or his family.

A year later, Mr. Chanko’s widow, Anita was watching NY Med when she saw the segment featuring her husband’s death. Even though his face was blurred and his voice was muffled, she recognized the patient as being her deceased husband. “And then I see, even with the blurred picture, you could tell it was him,” she said. “You could hear his speech pattern. I hear my husband say, ‘Does my wife know I’m here?’ I saw my husband die before my eyes.”

The family filed suit against New York Presbyterian Hospital and former chief surgical resident Sebastian Schubl. The suit alleges breach of the doctor-patient confidentiality owed to Mr. Chanko. In addition to the suit, Mr. Chanko’s son Kenneth filed a complaint with the DHHS Office for Civil Rights in January 2013. The complaint took more than three years to resolve, but the April ruling was in favor of the family, ordering the hospital to pay more than $2 million. The Office for Civil Rights called the actions of filming Mr. Chankos’ death an egregious violation. “This case sends an important message that O.C.R. will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization,” Jocelyn Samuels, the Office’s director, said in a statement. In addition to the fine, Presbyterian Hospital will be updating its privacy policy and provide additional training to staff. The Department of Health and Human Services will be monitoring compliance over the next several years.

Several groups have expressed concern with reality shows being filmed in hospitals. The American Medical Association has expressed concern that these shows exploit patients’ pain for public consumption. The state of New York has proposed legislation that would make it a crime to film patients without consent. Last summer, the trade group representing hospitals in New York City said its members would voluntarily agree to allow filming of their patients only with prior consent. Mr. Chanko’s son issued a statement that his family was “so grateful that action was taken and this will have a national impact on hospitals.”

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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