District judge questions Whidbey General Hospital records refusal

Whidbey General Hospital isn’t on trial, but both a judge and the deputy prosecutor directed some pointed comments about the administration during a court hearing Monday.

Whidbey General Hospital isn’t on trial, but both a judge and the deputy prosecutor directed some pointed comments about the administration during a court hearing Monday.

At one point, Deputy Prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence called the hospital’s actions “shocking and unconscionable.” She claimed the hospital appears to have a double standard in protecting an administrator, but hasn’t extended those protections to others.

Linda Gipson, the chief nursing officer, is facing a fourth-degree assault charge for allegedly assaulting a restrained patient May 13, but much of the argument Monday was over decisions made by other hospital officials.

Island County District Court Judge Bill Hawkins questioned why the hospital is fighting the release of an internal investigation of Gipsons’s actions, but didn’t fight a much more extensive and invasive request for a patient’s medical records.

The attorney, Christopher Emch of Foster Pepper, said that the patient didn’t respond to notice about the subpoena in a timely manner.

Hawkins also grilled Emch over an internal investigation that the hospital is fighting to keep secret. Under questioning, Emch claimed that the internal investigation is solely a product of the quality assurance committee and that the hospital never conducted a disciplinary or human-resources investigation into Gipson’s actions.

The Prosecutor’s Office, however, decided there is enough evidence from nurses who witnessed the event to charge Gipson with a crime.

Hawkins questioned whether the hospital’s quality assurance process is really “an end run around the Open Public Records Act.” The law protects quality assurance reports from disclosure, but not necessarily disciplinary investigations.

The deputy prosecutor and attorneys for Gipson and the hospital argued over two subpoenas duces tecum — subpoenas for evidence — during the three-hour hearing, but the issues were not settled.

Hawkins scheduled another hearing for Jan. 6.

The prosecutor subpoenaed the hospital’s internal investigation into Gipson’s conduct, but the hospital’s attorney is claiming it is exempt from release because it is a protected work of a quality assurance process and attorney-client privilege.

Lawrence said it appears that hospital officials only extend its “privileges and protections” when it serves the hospital.

She claimed that the hospital recently handed over an internal investigation of an employee accused of fraud and forgery to a law enforcement official; in contrast, officials declined to hand over an internal investigation even after Gipson — a member of the administration — was charged.

Hawkins wants an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the report is a protected product of a quality assurance process. Hospital employees involved in the process will have to testify at the hearing.

Gipson’s attorney, Andrew Schwarz of the Seattle firm Schwarz-Garrison, subpoenaed the alleged victim’s entire medical history. The prosecutor is fighting the subpoena, arguing that it is an unnecessary invasion of the woman’s privacy and would allow Gipson to “pad” her knowledge of the woman’s medical history for a self-defense claim.

Schwarz argued that the alleged victim, who has a lengthy history of mental illness episodes, has made false claims of being assaulted at the hospital previously and he needed the medical records to support the defense.

“Her bias is huge. She’s asking for a huge amount of money,” he said, referring to the alleged victim’s lawsuit against the hospital this fall.

In addition, Schwarz said the medical records the prosecutor provided for the alleged victim’s recent hospitalization were incomplete.

Lawrence pointed out that he has the same records she does. The alleged victim signed a waiver and the hospital was supposed to hand over the complete file. She said it was news to her if they are not complete.

In the end, Hawkins said Schwarz’s arguments for the release of the records were persuasive. But he said he would review all the pertinent records before making a determination about what should be released.

Hawkins said he wanted to find a way to “minimize the intrusion” into the woman’s medical records while still providing the defense the records it needs.

 

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