Olympic Medical Center is denied motion in Hill case

Judge says privilege does not extend to criminal search warrants

PORT ANGELES — A Clallam County Superior Court judge declined to partially quash search warrants served on Olympic Medical Center, agreeing with the prosecution that the hospital’s privilege does not extend to criminal search warrants.

Olympic Medical Center (OMC) had filed a motion to partially quash search warrants served on documents entered into the discovery of the investigation of former emergency room doctor Josiah Hill.

Hill, 39, of Port Angeles is charged with multiple counts of indecent liberties by a healthcare provider. A trial date is expected to be set Oct. 26.

The documents in question are from the OMC’s quality improvement committee and contain reports from the hospital’s disruptive event manager and reports safety manager. These are reports that are filled out by employees when events occur that make them or a patient feel unsafe.

OMC had previously sent redacted copies of these documents, but the prosecution requested the full documents.

OMC said it has a policy that allows it to withhold those documents due to their “privileged nature,” and that they do not fall within the Health Insurance and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Judge Simon Barnhart denied the motion to quash, saying that OMC’s policy does not protect it from a criminal search warrant and as such has required that OMC provide the unredacted documents.

Barnhart agreed with Michele Devlin, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, who argued that no statutory privilege OMC had would apply when it came to a criminal search warrant.

Devlin argued that OMC was being given too much grace as it had a 20-day window to turn over the requested documents when the warrants were served in September.

“OMC seems to believe they are above the law,” Devlin said.

Jane Liu, attorney for OMC, argued that these documents were not factual documents but were aftercare reviews and that OMC had provided factual documents in the redacted version.

“Documents generated by the quality improvement committee are not ‘evidence of the crime,’ they are the hospital’s internal after-the-fact review of care to improve hospital patient care,” Liu said.

Liu argued that the documents were of a “privileged nature” and that turning them over to the court would have a chilling effect on employees reporting incidents in the future if they were put into the public record when handed over to the court.

“It is of vital importance to patient care that providers be allowed to report adverse events concerning their colleagues in confidence,” Liu said.

“To allow the disclosure of privileged quality improvement documents to the police, which in turn would make those documents available to the public, will have a chilling effect on OMC staff’s ability to confidentially and candidly report and evaluate adverse events.”

Said Barnhart: “I don’t see how this would chill reporting in the hospital.”

Liu said that unredacted documents would expose OMC to liability risks it could face due to the disclosure of those documents, citing civil law cases.

Devlin that those cases and OMC’s argument have no merit in a criminal court case.

“The fact that OMC may suffer civil liability is not at issue in the case before this court,” she said. “The criminal liability of Josiah Hill is the only issue.

“The statutes cited by OMC concern privileges to be cited in civil proceedings.”

OMC had offered to provide unredacted documents for an on-camera review by Barnhart, who declined.

________

Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at kpark@soundpublishing.com.

More in News

Members of the Captain Joseph House Foundation gather in October to celebrate the gifting of a Gold Star Monument marker in front of the Captain Joseph House in Port Angeles. (Courtesy photo)
Captain Joseph House to host Memorial Day ceremony

Respite home provides space for Gold Star Families

Memorial Day ceremonies set across Peninsula

Public invited to events in Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Sequim

Dash Air to pursue a public charter

Model would change from commercial service

Board recommends $940K for Clallam Bay-Sekiu sewer

Two lift stations would be replaced in coming year

Investigators seeking woman who used ATM

Items involved in officer-involved shooting sent to state crime lab

Benji Astrachan of Sisterland Farms collects bins of unwanted food collected by restaurants at the Wharf in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Certification connects businesses, sustainable practices

Green Wheel designation focusing on diverting waste from landfills

Health report prompts concerns

Food bank leaders: Rodent problem being addressed

Port Angeles approves funds for housing project

City also OKs five-year police body-worn camera contract

Greywolf Elementary shelters in place during police activity

A man has been arrested following police activity in the… Continue reading

Turns restricted during roundabout construction

Drivers will not be able to make left turns at… Continue reading

Scheduled bridge closures canceled

Overnight closures of the Hood Canal bridge on state Highway… Continue reading