Woman struck by car on Village Road
BRECKENRIDGE – A woman walking across Village Road near Great Divide Lodge Saturday night was struck by a vehicle, but new patient privacy laws prevent law enforcement and other medical personnel from releasing any information regarding the incident.
A Breckenridge Police Department report has yet to be approved, a spokeswoman said, and much of it will likely contain medical information it can’t release.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was enacted to ensure a patient’s privacy across the spectrum of medical issues. The final privacy rule became effective in April 2001, and all hospitals had to be in compliance with it by April 14, 2003.
The new rule protects a patient’s privacy, in part, by limiting the amount of information the media or the public can obtain about them from hospital personnel and other medical providers.
The Summit Daily News learned of Saturday’s incident by other citizens aware of the accident.
Sources said the woman and her male companion were walking up the road when a speeding vehicle struck her. According to Ed Parry, assistant director of the Summit County Ambulance, the 22-year-old woman suffered leg fractures and was transported via Flight for Life to St. Anthony’s Central in Denver. Police and fire personnel could not confirm or deny that information.
Medical responders even have to be sensitive about what information they can pass on to the next shift, said Battalion Chief Mike Rutherford of the Red, White and Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge.
“You can’t give out information that would lead someone to know who that might be,” he said. “With this car accident, all we can say is that it’s a female patient and she had some injuries.”
Unless the reporter has the patient’s name, hospital personnel can’t divulge any health information – not even confirm the patient is at that hospital – without risking a $50,000 fine and jail time.
If the reporter has the name of the patient, public information officers can then only say if the patient is in good, fair, serious or critical condition. And if the patient has died, they can only release the time of death if the body is still at the hospital.
A patient or next of kin can, however, choose to release information regarding the patient.
Local news officials say the new laws will prevent them from getting timely, accurate information to people in the community. Often, the only way they will hear about such incidents is from citizens who call to inform them.
“Whenever people see someone injured on the mountain or flown off in a helicopter, they deluge us with phone calls,” said Summit Daily News publisher Michael Bennett. “They’ll ask us if we had heard that someone was injured. Rumors will fly around town about how so-and-so is doing – or that they died – and if we can’t get the information, we can’t get them the story. It’s our duty to let people know if something has happened to a member of our community, and these laws make it that much harder to get that information.”
Others wonder how well the HIPAA laws will serve public safety, as well. News reports not only inform readers about the incident, but also remind people to drive slowly, ski in control and avoid drinking alcohol while soaking in hot tubs, among many other things.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or
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