NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt University Medical Center is facing a federal civil rights investigation after it turned over medical records of transgender patients to Tennessee’s Attorney General, hospital officials have confirmed.
The US Department of Health and Human Services investigation comes just a few weeks after two patients sued VUMC for sharing their filing with Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti late last year.
“We have been contacted by the Civil Rights Office and are working with them,” spokesman John Howser said in a statement late Thursday. “We have no further comment as this is an ongoing investigation.”
VUMC came under criticism for waiting months before telling patients in June that their medical records were being shared late last year, and only acted after VUMC’s existence The motions turned out to be evidence in another court proceeding. The news sparked alarm from many families living in the Ruby State, where Republican lawmakers have sought to ban gender-based childcare for transgender youth and limit LGBTQ rights.
Patients suing for disclosure of their information say VUMC should have removed personally identifiable information before releasing the records because the hospital was aware of Tennessee authorities’ hostile attitude toward the rights of transgender people.
Many of the patients whose private medical records were shared with Skrmetti’s office are government employees or their adult children or spouses; others participate in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid plan; and some were not even patients at the VUMC clinic, which provides transgender care.
“The more we learn about the volume of deeply personal information that VUMC has disclosed, the more appalled we are,” said attorney Tricia Herzfeld, representing the patients. “Our customers are encouraged that the federal government is investigating what happened here.”
HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the civil rights investigation.
Meanwhile, Skrmetti has claimed he only requested the VUMC medical records because he was involved in one “normal” examination about possible fraud in doctor’s billing and that he isn’t targeting patients or their families.
Still, Skrmetti continued to attract skepticism from Democratic lawmakers and civil rights activists after he joined a group of Republican attorneys general and opposed a proposed federal rule that would restrict law enforcement and state officials’ ability to work Gather the medical records of those fleeing their home state to seek abortion services or transgender health care.
Skrmetti also defends those of the state gender-affirming childcare ban for transgender youth and has repeatedly commended the federal appeals court’s decision to allow the law to go into effect temporarily.
Skrmetti’s office says it has heard “nothing” from the civil rights investigation.
“Moving a disagreement over the law into a state investigation would clearly be retaliatory and would reflect a dangerous politicization of state law enforcement,” spokeswoman Amy Wilhite said.
In an earlier version of this report, the first name of Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman John Howser was incorrect.