Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Tennessee is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for releasing the medical records of transgender patients to the state’s attorney general. The investigation comes shortly after two patients filed lawsuits against the hospital for disclosing their records to Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. This incident has ignited concerns over patient privacy and civil rights, particularly in a state where transgender rights and healthcare have become contentious issues.
The investigation has surfaced as VUMC is accused of sharing patients’ medical information with Attorney General Skrmetti late last year. The hospital allegedly failed to inform affected patients until June, when the revelation emerged as evidence in a separate court case. The incident has raised alarm in a state where legislative efforts have aimed to curtail LGBTQ rights and restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
VUMC’s actions are challenged by patients who argue that the hospital should have taken steps to remove personally identifiable information before handing over the records, given the hostile stance of Tennessee authorities towards transgender rights.
John Howser, a spokesperson for VUMC, confirmed that the hospital is cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights in response to the ongoing investigation. The situation has drawn attention to the broader implications of patient confidentiality, especially as transgender individuals continue to face discrimination and legal battles for their rights.
Attorney Tricia Herzfeld, representing the affected patients, expressed concern over the extent of private information disclosed and welcomed the federal government’s involvement in examining the incident.
While the specifics of HHS’s investigation have not been disclosed, Skrmetti has defended his actions by asserting that he sought the records as part of a routine investigation into potential medical billing fraud. He maintained that his focus was not on targeting patients or their families.
Skrmetti’s involvement in opposing a proposed federal rule concerning medical record collection for individuals seeking abortion services or transgender healthcare has sparked skepticism from Democratic lawmakers and civil rights advocates. Additionally, Skrmetti has been vocal in defending Tennessee’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
As the investigation unfolds, questions linger about the balance between law enforcement and patient privacy, especially in contexts where political and social factors are intertwined.
HHS has yet to provide a comment on the investigation, while Skrmetti’s office maintains that they have not received information regarding the civil rights inquiry. Concerns over the potential misuse of federal law enforcement and the potential politicization of investigations have been raised in response to the unfolding situation.