Fired workers plead for their jobs back

HOUSTON Sixteen hospital workers were terminated for violating the patient's privacy, and now some of them are saying their punishments were too harsh. Seven of those 16 employees went before the hospital board. They said they did it not only to save their jobs but their professional reputations as well.

"My livelihood and life have been taken away from me," said fired hospital worker Angela Allen Harris.

The stories were compelling and at times, tearful. For the first time, the fired employees spoke to the Harris County Hospital District board of directors, pleading to be re-hired. In the case of Harris, she says she signs on several computers a day and someone else accessed records using her login.

She told the board, "I may look at a computer, on average, four computers per unit and I was responsible for three to four units a day. So therefore ... it had to be an honest human mistake that I left my logon."

"There was a group of staff in front of a computer," said fired hospital worker Shanty Saputra. "When I passed by them, the monitor had already shown an MRI image. (Someone) was explaining the image. I cannot close my eyes and my ears while entering that area."

The mass firings happened last month after the hospital district determined the employees violated federal patient privacy laws, specifically, for accessing the medical records of Dr. Stephanie Wuest, a first year resident at Ben Taub. Dr. Wuest was shot in a grocery shot parking lot. She survived the shooting.

Meanwhile, the union representing the fired employees admits disciplinary action was needed but in another form.

Thomas Webb with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said, "Hopefully what they'll find is a way to make sure that the option that was chosen was not absolutely necessary. Hopefully they'll find this can be remedied with a disciplinary act less than termination."

Webb suggested options such as suspensions or additional training for the employees. The board of directors said they have no specific time table for any decisions.

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