Woman out of a job after sending tweet to Governor Barbour

Published: Dec. 21, 2009 at 10:42 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 18, 2013 at 5:13 PM CST
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By  Julie Straw - bio | email | twitter

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - A tweet to Governor Haley Barbour ended with a University Medical Center employee resigning from her job.  She said she was simply using the social networking site Twitter to exercise her right to freedom of speech.  UMC officials said it was a violation of privacy laws.

Last Tuesday afternoon Governor Haley Barbour wrote this on his Twitter page,  "Glad the Legislature recognizes our dire fiscal situation.  Look forward to hearing their ideas on how to trim expenses."

Less than an hour later Jennifer Carter, a former administrative assistant for UMC's nursing school, tweeted this to Governor Barbour, "Schedule regular medical exams like everyone else instead of paying UMC employees over time to do it when clinics are usually closed."

Carter was referring to an incident she was told about by several UMC staffers three years ago.  She claims the Governor came to the Pavilion on a Saturday when it is usually closed and had it specially staffed with 15-20 people all for a check up.

"I wasn't really jabbing at him.  That's just what people do on Twitter," said Carter.

Two days later Carter was contacted by UMC's Department of Compliance for violation of HIPAA Laws.

She said the Compliance Department told her the Governor's Office had tracked her down and told them to deal with her.

"I was told I would be suspended for three days without pay until the paper work could be done.  I was strongly encouraged to resign," said Carter.  She did resign.

Carter doesn't believe her Tweet broke any privacy laws that protect patients.  Attorney Terris Harris specializes in health care law and does not represent any parties involved.  He said just because the Governor is a public figure doesn't mean his health information can be public knowledge.

"Without a specific statutory exception than any provision of his health care would be in my opinion a violation of HIPAA laws," said Harris.

Attorneys for WLBT tell us according to federal regulations and the health and human services website, only health-care related entities are covered by HIPAA.  Carter never was involved with the Governor's health care, but was employed by UMC.

"If the Governor wants to do something with the budget and stop job losses, causing a single mom to lose her job eight days before Christmas really doesn't help the matter," said Carter.

University Medical Center sent us this statement,  "Disclosing a patient's protected health information is a policy violation that we take very seriously.  We will do whatever is necessary to protect the privacy of our patients.  An investigation of this matter was pending and the employee resigned, so we consider it closed."

WLBT contacted the Governor's office.  They are not commenting on this matter.

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