Hospital workers take pictures of patients and post them online

Two employees of a U.S. hospital have been fired for using their cell phone cameras to take photos of patients receiving treatment and then posting the images to a social networking Web site.

Sam Giammo, the director of public affairs at University of New Mexico Hospital, said Sunday the photos - mainly close-ups of injuries being treated in the Albuquerque hospital's emergency room over the past few months - were posted on an employee's private MySpace page.

Giammo said he's never heard of a similar incident at the University of New Mexico Hospital or any other hospital.

A few other hospital employees were disciplined and the investigation is ongoing, he said.

UNMH values patient privacy "very, very highly and we will do everything we can to protect them," Giammo said. "We just won't tolerate unprofessional actions by any of our staff. We just won't stand for that."

The photos were discovered after a hospital supervisor received an anonymous tip about them Tuesday and launched an investigation.

Hospital managers personally oversaw the removal of the photos from the Web site and from the employees' cell phones, Giammo said.

"We have to rely on the people telling us that they don't have any others," he said.

The patients in the photos could not be notified that their pictures had been taken because their faces and personal identifying features had been removed from the photos, Giammo said.

Giammo said the MySpace page could only be accessed by the employee's online friends, not the general public.

Giammo said the employees who were fired violated a hospital policy that bans the use of cell phone cameras in patient areas. The other employees were disciplined for not bringing the photos to the attention of managers, he said.

The hospital is treating the matter as an employment issue and law enforcement has not been involved, Giammo said.

The use of cell phone cameras in hospitals have caused breaches of patient privacy or concern about such violations in California, Arizona and South Dakota in recent years.

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