Hospital Employee Fired for Speaking about Museum Shooting

Tamara Miller, a rabbi at George Washington University hospital, has been fired for speaking and writing about comforting the family of the security guard who died in the Holocaust Museum shooting.

Miller wrote for the Washington Post’s column On Faith about the experience in June, and the hospital fired her five weeks later for supposedly sharing personal information about the patient. I read the article, and there is absolutely nothing shocking or even particularly revealing about what she says: Johns died in the arms of medical personnel from a shotgun wound. Is there something else going on here? Or is this as egregious of an infringement on free speech as it looks?

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5 thoughts on “Hospital Employee Fired for Speaking about Museum Shooting

  1. Employees don’t have free speech rights. GW Hospital isn’t Congress. People need to get over this daffy idea that they can do whatever they want as long as they call it free speech.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

  2. PJ’s right. There are really strict laws about what hospital personnel can and can’t say about patients that have nothing to do with WHAT was said, but the simple fact that it was a hospital staffer who said it. If she had been a rabbi who wasn’t employed by the hospital, who had simply gone there when she heard the news, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but hospitals are specifically forbidden from talking about patients. Unless the family specifically signed a form permitting it, the hospital isn’t even allowed to acknowledge that a person has been there for treatment.

  3. I don’t know that I’d classify it as a “clear” HIPAA violation at all. HIPAA isn’t privately actionable, so a prosecutor would have to take an interest for it to amount to anything.

    Looking at the article the only person she discusses a direct interaction with is Johns’ wife. I’m not sure I’d qualify her as a patient or Miller as a health care provider in this context.

    All we have for potentially revealing statements are:

    “Inside the operating room, doctors of every faith and cultural background gathered their medical skills to save their wounded patient whose big heart had stopped beating. Outside the operating room, there was waiting and wailing, praying and punctuated sobbing.”

    “When the news of Stephen’s death was pronounced, for a brief moment, we all went into our own magical thinking and reimagined a different outcome.”


    “Stephen Tyrone Johns died in the Divine arms of the medical personnel. His young life truncated by a shotgun powered by evil.”

    Out of all of that the only thing that resembles revelation of information rather than hyperbole is “Outside the operating room, there was waiting and wailing, praying and punctuated sobbing.” Really, what does that reveal?

    The hospital can fire her for whatever they like, but if they didn’t receive a complaint about this from Johns’ family it’s hard for me to take their claim at face value that this is purely concern over HIPAA.

    Where’s the line drawn to allow people to write about their own personal experiences? If Miller has been home that day and wrote this article would she be in the wrong? If she was a clerk in the gift shop who never even saw the victim or his family?

  4. Even so, that doesn’t mean the hospital hasn’t implemented strict internal policies to take action against employees who put them at risk of prosecution. And the column does reveal that Johns was at that particular hospital for treatment, which is not allowed without express written permission.

    When I went to the ER for my little health adventure a few weeks ago, we were told that unless we signed the consent form for the hospital directory, Tom couldn’t even leave the building and come back to see me, because the hospital staff would have to deny I was even there.

    HIPAA is often used as a boogeyman, but hospital policies about confidentiality are strict for a variety of legal reasons, not all of which are HIPAA-related. And those policies are binding on all hospital staff, yes, even the gift shop clerks. If Miller had been, say, a synagogue rabbi who just happened to be visiting a member of her congregation and happened upon the Johns family, the hospital’s policies would not have been violated.