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 firstname.lastname@example.org.