Photos of dying patient posted to Facebook get four hospital workers fired

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Instead of treating a 60-year-old stabbing victim after his initial arrival at St. Mary Medical Center's ER, nurses and other staff took photos of the man and posted them on Facebook, the Los Angeles Times reports.

William Wells, the patient, had been stabbed more than 12 times by a fellow nursing home resident. His throat was sliced so severely that he was almost decapitated. He died soon after the photo was taken. His death was ruled a homicide. Police arrested his suspected attacker.

The breach of patient privacy, which occurred on April 9 at the Long Beach, Calif.-based hospital, led to the firing of four staff members. Another three were disciplined, a St. Mary spokesman told the Times. Neither of the two nurses involved was fired.

Nurses and staff posted a photograph of Wells on their public Facebook accounts for about two days before coworkers reported them to hospital officials, an employee who saw the photo and Facebook posts told the Times. Hospital staff also circulated the photo attached to text messages, the employee said.

The California Department of Public Health is investigating the incident, which is one of nine potential breaches of patient privacy at the hospital this year, according to Ralph Montano, a department spokesman.

A spokesman for the California Nurses Association, which represents nurses, said he believes it's rare for nurses to post unauthorized patient photographs. Union officials tell nurses never to post patient-related information online, because social networking sites are "an open book," Chuck Idelson, the spokesman told the Times.

Rebekah Child, an RN at Cedars-Sinai's emergency room, told the Times that she knows many nurses who write about patients on Facebook. Some even do it while they're on the job.

To learn more:
- read the Los Angeles Times story

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