Privacy, confidentiality issues high on list of complaints over DHS merger

Privacy, confidentiality issues high on list of complaints over DHS merger

This story is the second in a multi-part series on the consolidation of the Wicker Park and Humboldt Park Department of Human Services offices and the impact on the communities they serve.

Patient privacy and confidentiality in the combined DHS office planned for Humboldt Park this summer are big concerns for workers and users of the services, adding to feelings that this merger is going to hurt the communities it's intended to serve.

A floor plan for the level that will house DHS's Division of Rehabilitative Services, leaked to The Chicago Reporter, shows that there are seven rooms designated as private offices with doors available, eight rooms called “professional work stations” without doors and eight desks that the plan shows without any partitions.

That's just not enough space to ensure privacy for patients, said Jacob Hickey, a rehabilitation vocation case coordinator in the DRS office currently at the Wicker Park location and the vice president of AFSCME local 2858.

“There is no conference room to utilize,” said Hickey, “and there is no privacy screen set up for the middle area in which the rehabilitation employees have access to all confidential information all of the time."

The planned merger of two neighboring DHS offices in June is raising a number of concerns for the community of users and providers in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. The state says the merger is meant to improve efficiency and cut costs, but many others believe it's another step in the reduction of state services. We will be exploring other issues surrounding this consolidation in the days ahead.

There are several laws governing the disclosure of medical information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides federal protection for health information released by individuals. Under its privacy provisions, said Robin Jones, director of the Great Lakes ADA Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the ability to discuss medical issues “in an area that is not susceptible to being recorded or overhead is critical.”

According to the HIPAA Privacy rules, recipients of federal funds that “conduct employment-related programs, including employment training programs” are required “to maintain confidentiality regarding any information about the medical condition or history of applicants to or participants in the program or activity.”

Vocational rehabilitation services, which help disabled people find employment, will be one of the programs run out of the Humboldt Park office.

This makes easy access to private spaces essential for disabled clients, says Steve Edwards, a case worker at the Wicker Park office and president of AFSCME local 2808, who works with people who receive both public aid and have disabilities.

Privacy is always essential for disabled clients, he said.

"Rehabilitation counselors have to interview their people in private, because they are talking about their disabilities," said Edwards.

At the Wicker Park office, conference rooms that hold equipment to help legally blind people read documents are used for confidential meetings with clients, and can be used by all workers, said Hickey.

In response to these concerns, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said "DRS staff will ensure clients privacy rights are fully protected by installing high level walls. There are no rules or regulations regarding the necessity of 'closed offices.'"

Check out the floor plan, said to be the final one, here:

Final Floor Plan - 2753 w North - A3

© Community Renewal Society 2012

Photo credit: Miss Mini Graff

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