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Scandals in UCLA-associated medical centers reveal need for stricter preventative measures

By Daniel Feeney

May 24, 2010 8:53 p.m.

Several weeks ago, the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center was hit with allegations of employee misconduct. The allegations state that there have been incidents of staff members setting up a mini beauty salon in the break room. The Olive View-UCLA Medical Center later expressed that the situation amounted to little more than employees using nail polish and tweezers, and that the employees partaking in the salon-like activity were reprimanded. Unfortunately, the situation, which may have been blown out of proportion, has reflected badly upon the UCLA name.

While UCLA hospitals have received accolades from well-respected sources like U.S. News and World Report, these allegations of misconduct, coupled with past celebrity information leaks, have given a negative impression that its employees are at best careless and at worst unethical.

Before going off on the types of problems that have been occurring within the medical center and why it is important that more thorough measures be taken to prevent future situations, I want to make a quick disclaimer: Last year, I worked for the UCLA Department of Urology as, essentially, a file alphabetizer. My work may not have been of the utmost importance, but I did interact with employees and have access to confidential patient files. In my time there, the employees there could not have been nicer and followed the rules very carefully. I am fairly sure that, on the whole, this is how much of the medical center operates.

According to the Los Angeles Times, around the time of the initial medical records scandal, more than 127 employees looked, without authorization, at records of famous patients. Celebrities, including Farrah Fawcett and Britney Spears, had records leaked to the press. With so many breaches of confidentiality, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center needs to make it clear to its employees what actions are unethical and what type of punishment they can expect if they decide to look at the records.

It was just a year or two ago that there were more than 100 people associated with UCLA who were accused of snooping at records. More recently, employees of the neonatal intensive care unit at Olive View were accused of dangerous behavior. With these examples, it is clear harsher actions need to be taken to reprimand these employees, and additional preventative measures should be put in place. In addition to taking preventative measures, the hospital needs to say that it has taken steps to restore confidence to the public at large of the high standards and quality of care it provides.

It seems, however, that many of the problems that have occurred with the center seem to be a result of careless, even innocent, behavior. The Olive View incident, for instance, was people painting nails and plucking eyebrows while on their break. In most jobs, this would be fine, but if you are working in the NICU, this type of behavior could be dangerous (or at least perceived as such). The situation, at least as it appears from an observer’s standpoint, gives the impression that these employees did not receive proper training, while their actions were not properly overseen and rebuked by supervisors.

I do not know the amount of training received by employees at the NICU, but I can speak on how, when I was an employee, I was trained not to leak confidential records.

When I began employment, there was a mini lesson/quiz which was given to me as a sort of training or confidentiality course. They would give a little bit of information on each page, with a quiz at the bottom. Of course, you could just read the quiz questions first and then look in the paragraph for the answers.

The quiz, neither difficult nor very informative, did not seem to be thorough enough in explaining what type of behavior is necessary to have an ethical and safe work environment when dealing with patients’ files. After this easy quiz, I was allowed to handle the files in my work.

In the time since I worked part-time at the medical center, hopefully some of the training and preventative measures have changed. Working at a hospital with so many celebrity patients, keeping records safe may be more difficult for the university. It might also be hard for the TMZ-loving employees to keep from picking up the celebrity files.

Giving strict reprimands is a simple way to cut down on these types of incidents, but more involved preventative measures should also be considered. These measures could be anything from mandatory yearly ethics seminars to increased surveillance of employee activities.

When I was working at the medical center, computer access was fairly relaxed, and I even heard about leaks from computers being left on but not logged out. By coupling increased computer security with ethics seminars detailing the rules and the new securities, hopefully employees will think twice before leaking information or having a beauty salon break room.

The UCLA-associated hospitals are an excellent testament to the greatness of UCLA as a university, and if we can impose stricter rules on employees, the center may become even better. Ultimately, providing a physically safe and confidential hospital should be a top priority of the UCLA hospitals and is something that the hospital should focus immediately on.

E-mail Feeney at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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Daniel Feeney
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