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Thursday, February 3, 2011
Updated: February 7, 8:10 PM ET
Hospital firing 3 over Hawkeyes' records

Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will fire three employees and suspend two others after an investigation confirmed they inappropriately breached the electronic medical records of hospitalized football players, a spokesman said Thursday.

The hospital launched an investigation last week after acknowledging the medical records of the 13 Iowa football players who were hospitalized with a rare muscle disorder may have been inappropriately accessed.

Hospital spokesman Tom Moore said the investigation confirmed there were five employees responsible for the breaches and the student-athletes affected have been notified.

Moore said the hospital will not release the names of the employees involved or their positions. He said the hospital was "in the process" of terminating the three but would not elaborate on what that would entail. He said the two others would serve five-day unpaid suspensions.

"It is an indication of our commitment to patient privacy," Moore said. "We take this very seriously."

Moore said the violations of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act have been reported to federal regulators, who can choose whether to seek additional fines and jail time against those involved.

The players are affected by rhabdomyolysis, which causes muscle fibers to be released into the bloodstream and can cause kidney damage. They checked into the hospital last week complaining of soreness and discolored urine after undergoing intense workouts following winter break. The players spent several days getting treatment and were all discharged by Sunday.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday he remains puzzled about what caused the disorder, and the university continues to investigate. The case has raised questions about whether college football players are being pushed too hard, but Ferentz said he did not believe that was the case. He said his teams had done similar workouts three times in the past without injury, and they are designed to be challenging but safe.

Moore would not say whether any of the information inappropriately obtained was leaked to the news media or otherwise released to the public. He said the hospital would not release letters sent to the players that spelled out the details of the breaches to protect their privacy.

The hospital said last week that it routinely screens the records of patients, including those with high public profiles, to make sure they are being kept confidential. Under the law, only medical personnel involved in a patient's care should be allowed to review an individual's records.

Moore said that breaches are often caused by the simple curiosity of employees, but he could not comment on the employees' motivation in this case.

UI Staff Council President Amber Seaton, an employee in the College of Pharmacy, said she did not know the details of the firings. But she said employees who are given access to medical records are warned not to abuse that power.

"I think it's made pretty clear to people," she said. "It's unfortunate, but this happened."