Media Policy

When you're seeking information for a story, you must go through Community Hospital's Communication and Marketing Department. We can be reached Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. at (831) 625-4505 or by calling these direct lines:

  • Brenda Moore, assistant director -(831) 625-4544
  • Mary Barker, director - (831) 622-2757

In the event of breaking news during evenings and on weekends, please contact the hospital administrative supervisor at (831) 624-5311. That supervisor will either provide information or contact the appropriate Communication and Marketing staff member to assist you.

Under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), we are limited in the information we may provide about patients. Essentially, HIPAA regulations require that the hospital release patient information only when the media request includes the patient's name and only if the patient has agreed to the release of such information.

Once it has been established that information can be released, that information will be limited to a one-word condition (see below) and a general hospital location (see below).

One-word conditions

  • Undetermined- Patient is awaiting physician and/or assessment.
  • Good - Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.
  • Fair - Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.
  • Serious - Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.
  • Critical - Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.
  • Deceased - This may only be reported after next-of-kin has been notified.

If the patient has been released, we may disclose either of the following:

We may also tell you if the patient has been:

  • treated and released, or
  • treated and transferred to another healthcare facility.

Hospital locations

  • Patient is in the Emergency department
  • Patient is in the Intensive Care Unit
  • Patient has been admitted, but is not in intensive care (i.e. patient is in a regular inpatient room)

Possible scenarios

  • 1. Your reporter calls and explains that he/she has information from the police that a young woman recently involved in a car accident has been admitted to the hospital. Your reporter has information about the accident and a description of the patient. What information can that reporter expect to receive from Community Hospital?

Regardless of what information you already have, you must inquire about the patient by name or no information can be shared. If you have the patient's name and the patient has agreed to the release of information, we are limited to sharing the standard information - name, one-word condition, and general location.

Even if the events surrounding the patient in question appear to be a matter of public record, that does not change the hospital's legal requirement to protect the privacy and security of patient information. The HIPAA regulations govern healthcare agencies, not police departments, fire departments, etc. Those non-HIPAA-governed agencies may be able to provide additional information, but the hospital cannot guarantee that the information will be correct. In fact, if the information from the police is incorrect, the hospital is not allowed to correct erroneous information, since giving any information beyond the standard information would constitute a violation of the laws protecting patient confidentiality.

We can ask a patient if they will provide more information or grant media interviews.

  • 2. Your reporter has just been alerted to an accident involving a school bus full of minors. What information can the hospital share with that reporter?

In a disaster or other extreme situation such as a school bus accident, the hospital can release general information since it might benefit the public. The hospital can share the number of patients who have been brought to the facility by gender or by age group (adults, children, teenagers, etc.). For example, we might say, "The hospital is treating 20 children (13 boys and 7 girls) in the Emergency Department and 5 children (1 boy and 4 girls) in Surgery as a result of the school bus accident."

  • 3. If an unconscious patient arrives at the hospital and, therefore, can't give consent to the release of information, what information can your reporter expect?

The hospital cannot share any information since the patient has not consented to the release of information. If a patient has previously designated a representative to make healthcare decisions, the designated individual has the right to authorize (or object to) the release of the patient's information to the media.

  • 4. Under HIPAA guidelines, what information is the hospital allowed to give out if your reporter calls inquiring about the death of a patient?

If a patient has given consent to release standard information and your reporter asks about the patient by name, the hospital may disclose the patient's general condition, including death, only if next-of-kin has been notified. The hospital may not disclose information regarding the date, time, or cause of death.

  • 5. If a politician or celebrity is hospitalized and asks that the hospital not release any information, what are the hospital's obligations to your reporter?

We will proactively ask that politician or celebrity if they are willing to provide information or grant media interviews. If that person has asked that no information be released, under HIPAA guidelines, the hospital will have to uphold that request - regardless of who the patient is. In the case of a politician, we would suggest that your reporter contact the press office for that politician.

  • 6. A mother brings a baby into the Emergency department and child abuse is suspected. The mother has been reported to Child Protective Services, and your reporter calls to get a status on the child. What is the hospital's obligation to that reporter?

The hospital cannot release any information about any child unless a parent or legal guardian has authorized it. If the parent has authorized release of the standard information and the reporter asks about the child by name, the hospital may share the standard information of general condition and general location within the hospital.

  • 7. A stabbing has taken place on a public street. Many people witnessed the crime. Both the assailant and the victim are admitted to the hospital. Your reporter calls to check on the condition of both patients. He/she has their names. What can the hospital tell that reporter?

In cases of violent crime, it is the hospital's policy to help protect patient and staff security by initially withholding all information about the patients in response to all inquiries, including confirmation of the patients' presence in the hospital, even if the reporter has names. As soon as possible, however, the hospital will assess the security risk to determine if any information can be released.

  • 8. The police radio in the newsroom is dispatching information about a rape victim who has been taken to Community Hospital. Your reporter calls the hospital to follow up. What information can the hospital share with the reporter?

In cases involving sexual assault, suicide, psychological services, AIDS/HIV, and chemical dependency, the hospital cannot share any information. Releasing information in any other high-risk cases is also at the discretion of the hospital.

  • 9. Your reporter wants to come to the hospital to shoot footage for a story on the Emergency Department. Can he/she just show up?

All requests for on-site interviews, photography, or filming must be prearranged with the Communication and Marketing Department. If a patient involved is agreeable - which involves signing a consent form allowing the media and the hospital to conduct such activity - special guidelines must be followed. A patient may not arrange for his/her own on-site interviews without the involvement of the Communication and Marketing Department. A Communication and Marketing staff member must accompany any media representative while on-site.

Communication and Marketing makes every attempt to honor deadlines and reasonable requests, including those for interior film footage or photography and interviews, while safeguarding our patients' privacy.

  • 10. What are the penalties to hospital employees if they give protected information to the media?

Hospital employees who violate HIPAA regulations can be personally fined $50,000 and spend one year in prison for improper disclosure of health information.