HIPAA, hospitals and law enforcement

I found a story in The News & Observer interesting in its reference to HIPAA.

Apparently a man charged with second-degree murder and felony death by vehicle was sent to the hospital following the accident last October.  However, the hospital released him without notifying law enforcement.  The article reported that the Highway Patrol Sgt. indicated his belief that hospitals do not inform law enforcement of such releases because of HIPAA…that they are afraid of being in noncompliance.  The hospital indicated, however, that law enforcement did not provide the hospital with the man’s name and a copy of his arrest warrant when he was admitted, as is their policy, so they did not know law enforcement wanted to be contacted.  UNC Health Care spokesperson "Crayton added that she is not aware of any cases at UNC where HIPAA rules have gotten in the way of officials being notified of a criminal defendant’s discharge."

Interesting…so is law enforcment trying to use HIPAA as a scapegoat for why the criminal (who was later caught, by the way) was released without their knowledge?  Or, was it just a miscommunication?  I have not read about a tendency for hospitals to not contact law enforcement when criminal patients are released before this printed opinion.

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