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Leach v. Iowa Board of Nursing

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 7, 2019

DAWN MARIE LEACH, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
IOWA BOARD OF NURSING, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Michael D. Huppert, Judge.

         A nurse appeals from the district court's dismissal of her petition for judicial review challenging the Iowa Board of Nursing's conclusion she violated the confidentiality or privacy rights of a patient and imposition of a citation and warning. AFFIRMED.

          David L. Brown and Tyler R. Smith of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Tessa Register, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE

         Nurse Dawn Leach appeals from the district court's dismissal of her petition for judicial review challenging the Iowa Board of Nursing's conclusion she violated the confidentiality or privacy rights of a patient and imposition of a citation and warning. Leach maintains the district court erred in dismissing her petition for judicial review because the Board's conclusion is "[b]ased upon an irrational, illogical, or wholly unjustifiable application of law to fact that has clearly been vested by a provision of law in the discretion of the agency," Iowa Code § 17A.19(10)(m), and is "not supported by substantial evidence in the record before the court when that record is viewed as a whole," Id. § 17A.19(10)(f).[1]

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Leach was employed by Unity Point Health Finley Hospital (Finley) to work as a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU). On eleven dates during December 2015, Leach remotely accessed patient census lists while she was not working. The census lists contained private health information, such as patient names, ages, diagnosis, unit, diet order, medications, and primary insurer.

         Finley learned of the access in January 2016 and questioned Leach about it. Leach admitted she accessed the lists, stating she did so in order to check ICU capacity to determine whether it was likely she would be required to work her assigned shifts.[2] Leach was advised that checking the list was in violation the hospital's information security policies that prevented remote access into the hospital's system without authorization-which Leach did not have-and when not necessary to complete her job responsibilities. Finley issued Leach an employee disciplinary notice on January 20; she was suspended for two twelve-hour shifts and required to repeat the HIPAA NetLearning module.

         Leach's supervisor filed a complaint with the Board, and, after an investigation, the Board found probable cause to file a notice of hearing and statement of charges against Leach. It was alleged Leach violated the confidentiality or privacy rights of the patient or client, in violation of Iowa Code section 147.55(3) (2015) and Iowa Administrative Code rule 655-4.6(4)(h).

         A contested hearing took place in January 2018. The Board made the following finding of facts:

[Leach] accessed the patient lists for the sole purpose of determining the ICU's census so she could determine whether she would [be] working her assigned shift the following day or placed on call. [She] did not use the information from the patient lists for any other purpose, and she did not share the information with anyone. [Leach] denies that she looked at any information other than the number of patients.
. . . . . . . [Leach] was not authorized to access Finley patient lists from remote locations, and she did not need the patient list information in order to perform ...

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