A HIPAA Violation? - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

A HIPAA Violation?

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If you are perfectly healthy, you are lucky. If you have a medical condition, you probably don't want everyone to know. So is it legal for someone to release it so a group of people can know it? It's why one woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

WSVN -- People have animals for different reasons, but Madeline Athanas's dog Sandy is not just a pet, it's a life changer.

Madeline Athanas: "She just helps me in an hourly bases to be able to function normally, to be able to go outside and not be afraid."

Many people consider their dogs priceless, but Madeline says she can also put a price tag on her trained service dog.

Madeline Athanas: "If someone kills her, they have to pay restitution over $38,000 in the state of Florida. Florida takes service animals very seriously."

But of course some people don't take service dogs seriously and don't want them around, included in that group is Madeline's condo association.

Madeline Athanas: "And they said 'Madeline, you are OK to rent but not your dog.' That's what started it."

To enable Sandy to move into the condominium, Madeline had to file a complaint with the Federal Government and Broward County. She won, decided to buy a condo here and as a result, this document forced the association to allow Madeline's service dog to move in. Some members of the association didn't take that well.

Madeline Athanas: "It's been ruthless. They have been ruthless, with retaliating against me."

The latest incident came when Madeline tried to take Sandy to the monthly condo board meeting, just like she has for the past three years. This time, the association president blocked the door.

Madeline Athanas: "And he says, 'Madeline, you can't go to the meeting. Why not? Because of your service dog.'"

The president had apparently planned the confrontation because Hollywood police had been called ahead of time. The Hollywood officer was standing there as the condo manager walked up and told everyone standing around about the medical disability Madeline has that requires the service dog.

Madeline Athanas: "She didn't say it once, she said it three times. I was mortified. I was horrified that somebody would disclose confidential information."

Fortunately for Madeline, the police officer understands the law regarding service dogs and let Sandy into the meeting. But now, because of the condo manager blurting out her medical information, everyone in the association knows Madeline's disability.

Madeline Athanas: "She read in my file confidential medical piece. It's private medical information about someone's disability. I think it was malicious, it was intentional and it was defiantly retaliatory. Absolutely."

Madeline had to turn over her medical records to the association so they could see why she needed Sandy with her. She is stunned that someone who had access to that information would reveal that information to the residents.

Madeline Athanas: "I don't know if it's a HIPAA violation."

Well Howard, under HIPAA, it's against the law for people in the medical field to reveal your private medical information, but can a condo manager blurt it out to residents?

Howard Finkelstein: "This is not a HIPAA violation. It mostly covers healthcare providers who are regulated under HIPAA, but it's a violation of the agreement that Madeline and the association made allowing her to move in with her dog. And even if they didn't have that agreement, you can't release private medical information. If you do, you can be sued for violating someone's right to privacy."

We spoke to the condo manager. When we asked her if and why she released Madeline's information, she told us she had no comment, to call their attorney.

Instead we called her boss in Texas. In a statement they said, "Since this incident, the resident and her service animal have been allowed to attend numerous meetings without incident. This event has provided an educational opportunity for the community and our managers."

Madeline Athanas: "She is my life. She is my life."

Madeline is now ready to move on with her life. The damage done by the association can't be changed but she hopes those people who have come after her can change.

Madeline Athanas: "I pray for these people. I think they are evil spirited from the get go. People here have been evil."

Patrick Fraser: "Now Howard said you can sue someone if they reveal confidential information. To collect, you have to have damages such as releasing information that cost you your job or in some cases, you can collect if you are emotionally damaged.

What might be better for Madeline to do to convince her association to be quiet, file another complaint with with the county human rights section. She has done that and they are now investigating.

A big mouth giving you a big headache? Need us to be of service? Contact us. We will dog them until they do the right thing and keep quiet.

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