Children's Hospital Scores Appellate Win for HIV Privacy Rights

10.13.2010

SAN FRANCISCO (October 13, 2010) – Nossaman today announced that its client Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland has obtained a major victory for patient privacy rights.  On Friday, a California appellate court agreed with the Hospital's efforts to protect confidential patient information about children infected with the AIDS virus.  The Court's decision relied primarily upon a California statute that broadly protects the identity of anyone who has been tested for HIV – let alone the test results – from being discovered in judicial or other proceedings.

"The Hospital has diligently protected patient privacy rights since it started treating infected children when the AIDS epidemic began nearly thirty years ago," according to Ann Petru, M.D., Director of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Program at the Hospital.  "Stringent protection of patient confidentiality is essential to ensuring that infected and at-risk children obtain necessary testing and treatment for the disease, especially among populations where access to medical care tends to be limited."

The dispute arose from a claim brought by a former Hospital employee, an infant development specialist who provided services to developmentally disabled infants and their families.  The former employee claimed that she became infected with HIV through exposure to an unknown child among the hundreds of children, ages three and under, with whom she worked over the course of a 19-year career.  Seeking to corroborate that allegation, she demanded that the Hospital disclose information about any children who were infected with HIV.

Consistent with its long-standing commitment to patient privacy, the Hospital asserted that statutory and constitutional privacy protections prohibited it from providing information about the identities of HIV-infected children.  In support of the Hospital, the California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association both participated as amicus curiae in the case, arguing against disclosure of the children's private medical information.

On October 8, 2010, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco agreed with the Hospital that the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board order to disclose certain identifying information violated Health & Safety Code section 120975.  That statute, enacted soon after AIDS was discovered in the 1980s, created broad confidentiality protections in order to encourage at-risk individuals to obtain HIV testing.

The appellate opinion is available online:  Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland v. Worker's Compensation Appeal Board (PDF), No. A127580.

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