CHICAGO (CBS) — Some Northwestern Memorial Hospital employees who say they were fired for accessing “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s files are speaking out and saying they didn’t do it.
The workers spoke exclusively to CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov after she first broke the story Wednesday night.
Many of the former employees worked as medical assistants or in other administrative capacities. They say they were fired without a chance to explain, even in cases where Smollett’s name only appeared on their computer screens.
“It’s devastating. It’s humiliating,” one fired employee said.
She says she’s still reeling at her sudden termination. An administrative employee for less than five years, she didn’t want to be identified but wanted to explain.
“I had told them on several occasions that I did not enter the records and I didn’t understand how having those names on the screen is my entering the records,” she said.
She acknowledges she did a partial search for the actor’s name at the request of another employee. She says it appeared on screen along with other names, but she never clicked on his file.
Another ex employee is also angry.
“It hurts after being there for 20 years!” the former customer service specialist said.
She said she actually had authorization to enter Smollett’s chart to complete and release it. She was fired weeks later for going into his chart without proper authorization, which she doesn’t understand.
“Long as there is a release on file that gives me authorization to go into that patient’s chart to retrieve the records that they’re asking for and release them, and I had that authorization in hand, no question about it,” she said.
They are just two of a half dozen now-former Northwestern employees who have shared similar stories and concerns. They say they were fired despite exemplary employment records and lack of awareness about what constitutes a breach.
“I think because he’s famous, he’s a known celebrity, that’s why they made a big deal out of it,” she said.
Northwestern has refused to comment on the on this matter, citing personnel and HIPAA constraints. But industry healthcare officials say HIPAA rules are very strict, adding each hospital sets up its own specific policies regarding patient confidentiality and what constitutes a breach.
These employees believe Human Resources may have gone too far.
“If it was a violation, okay, coach me. Teach me. Do something besides take away my job,” the former employee said.
Some employees say they are appealing their terminations.
Sources tell CBS 2 that 60 or more employees may have lost their jobs over the Smollett matter, but Northwestern will not confirm that.