Patients sue VUMC for releasing records related to AG’s transgender clinic probe

The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) failed in its obligation to protect patients’ personal information.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) failed in its obligation to protect patients’ personal information.
Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 1:58 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – A class action lawsuit has been filed by two Vanderbilt University Medical Center patients over the release of the center’s transgender health clinic medical records.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) failed in its obligation to protect patients’ personal information when it handed over non-anonymized records for more than 100 current and former patients as part of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s probe into the transgender clinic. Skrmetti said the investigation revolves around potential billing fraud.

“The State of Tennessee has been negatively targeting the transgender community for years,” the lawsuit says. “As part of that campaign, in late 2022 and early 2023, the Tennessee Attorney General suddenly demanded that the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Transgender Health Clinic turn over its patients’ medical records. VUMC knew about the state’s active targeting of the transgender community. It had a duty to protect their medical information and their identities … VUMC failed its contractual and legal duties, failed its patients, and has caused them serious harm.”

The lawsuit claims state lawmakers and Skrmetti repeatedly “target” the transgender community. The lawsuit includes examples, such as Skrmetti joining other attorneys general in defending Florida’s laws prohibiting transgender athletes from participating on women’s and girls’ sports teams and a ban on Medicaid funds being used for gender affirming care.

The lawsuit also claims Skrmetti began looking into the transgender clinic after conservative political commentator Matt Walsh made defamatory claims about the clinic’s practices without proof, leading to Gov. Bill Lee to call for an investigation.

The lawsuit asserts that VUMC should have pushed back on Skrmetti’s request for personally identifiable information, but it didn’t, turning over all of the requested records.

“VUMC was aware of the parade of anti-LGTBQ+ legislation in Tennessee over the past few years,” the lawsuit says, adding the hospital negligently inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiffs. “Against that backdrop, its failure to safeguard the privacy of its patients is particularly egregious.”

The plaintiffs are seeking an undetermined amount of money in damages, and an injunction directing VUMC to safeguard the medical records of the plaintiffs, among other demands.

Skrmetti has maintained its investigation into the clinic revolves around medical insurance fraud and is not unfairly targeting the LGBTQ community.

“We understand patients are concerned that VUMC produced their records to this Office, especially when those patients received abrupt notice without any context,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “To reiterate, this investigation is directed solely at VUMC and related providers and not at patients or their families. The records have been and will continue to be held in the strictest confidence, as is our standard practice and required by law. This same process happens in dozens of billing fraud investigations every year.”

When questioned about releasing the records related to Skrmetti’s probe, VUMC released the following statement:

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) complies with all health care privacy and security requirements established under both Federal and Tennessee law, including but not limited to HIPAA. These laws generally require that personally identified patient health care information be maintained as confidential and not be disclosed to third parties.

VUMC received requests from the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General as part of its investigation seeking information about transgender care at VUMC. The Tennessee Attorney General has legal authority in an investigation to require that VUMC provide complete copies of patient medical records that are relevant to its investigation. VUMC was obligated to comply and did so.”

Read the full lawsuit below: