Porn actress ‘Patient Zero’ suing California OSHA over privacy intrusion in HIV records flap

From Examiner.com (7/21/09)
By Sarah Estrella

Does a postive HIV test mean an individual loses the right to privacy concerning her medical health records?

That’s the question “Patient Zero” hopes to have answered – immediately – before California follows up on a subpoena to force her healthcare provider to release identifying information pertaining to her HIV test results.

The (former) adult film actress at the center of an HIV scare and subsequent controversy in June is now suing the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) over invasion of privacy, according to CourthouseNews.com, and will be represented in the lawsuit by American Civil Liberties attorneys Lori Rifkin and Elizabeth Gill.

In June I reported on Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare and its response to a positive preliminary HIV test on June 6 for an adult film actress, identified only as “Patient Zero.” Although some of her partners – then under industry quarantine but since confirmed as testing negative for infection – have since spoken publicly about the incident, AIM Healthcare referred to the patient only as “Patient Zero” and refused Cal/OSHA demands to release the records of Patient Zero and the testing clinic’s other HIV patients. Cal/OSHA subsequently conducted a surprise inspection of the AIM Healthcare facility on June 17, and later issued a subpoena for information, including the identification of Patient Zero.

The Patient Zero story made national headlines as the first known HIV incident in the Los Angeles adult entertainment industry since 2004, with wildly inaccurate reporting circulating about the scope of the incident and speculation – fueled in part by Cal/OSHA – that AIM Healthcare had been underreporting adult entertainment industry HIV results (See related story here). Cal/OSHA is now under increased pressure to enforce existing workplace safety codes that would force the use of condoms on adult film sets. The industry, and AIM Healthcare, have largely been working under a set of stringent but self-imposed protocols to protect adult performers from infection, and, at any rate AIM Healthcare reports that Patient Zero’s infection was NOT a workplace exposure. But that’s mostly a separate issue: Patient Zero’s lawsuit will be worth following specifically because it could set precedent regarding patient privacy in cases of HIV and other infection.

Earlier this week, AIM Healthcare posted an online reponse to some of the rumors and controversy swirling around the industry (see complete post here). Here’s an excerpt:

“Now we have OSHA so far up our butts we have a sore throat. We are being harassed, ridiculed, publicly humiliated and slandered by our own Health Department, who is terrifying our patients by double and triple investigating people who have long been medicated for STD’s, as well as their partners (we wonder what that is costing CA?). We are paying more lawyers then staff,

More info on the new lawsuit, via CourthouseNews.com:

Zero claims that after she tested positive for HIV, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health subpoenaed her health care provider for her records and personal information, in violation of her right to privacy.

She says that in June the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which provides health care to sex workers, told her she had preliminarily tested positive for HIV. She says the Foundation quarantined her and everyone known to have had sexual contact with her, and reported her case to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Cal/OSHA then conducted a surprise inspection of AIM and demanded the medical records of HIV patients, including Patient Zero, but AIM staff refused, she says.

After the inspection, she says, her attorney learned that Cal/OSHA was meeting with the medical facility’s staff to try to get the records of patients with HIV.

She says her attorney wrote a letter asking that OSHA respect the actress’s privacy when conducting the interviews. OSHA did not respond, though it confirmed receipt of the letter.

The actress says some of the news reports in June contained her true name and other identifying information. She demands damages for civil rights and constitutional violations, and violations of the health and safety code.

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