Tag Archives: mental health

A Call to Action on Mental Health

The 6th US/Canada Forum on Workplace, Mental Health and Productivity, held in Denver, produced a call to action on how employers can make suicide prevention a health and safety priority.

Almost 70 CEOs and community influencers participated in the five-hour forum, including senior representatives from RK Mechanical, the U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, Bank of the West, Denver Fire Department and Level (3).

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper welcomed the guests and applauded their efforts to expand their knowledge and their willingness to take what they learn back to their networks. “Suicide affects three families per day in Colorado, and Colorado is consistently one of the 10 highest states in suicide rates,” the governor said. “The first step in prevention is creating an environment where people can talk about it, including the workplace. Our goal is to build support, and the workplace provides a huge opportunity for prevention efforts.”

Larissa Herda, the host and CEO of tw telecom, shared her own experience around family members whose struggles with mental health illnesses have led to suicide. She also echoed the governor’s hope in seeing the workplace as a safe environment for people to feel like they have support and can access help. “Through sharing my own story, I have opened the doors for others in our company to share theirs.”

Participants discussed both the human and economic costs of suicide deaths and attempts. International mental health and suicide prevention experts from the U.S., Canada and Australia shared several leadership and programmatic tactics that have helped, such as strategic communication, skill training and mental health resources.

“We need to promote the human dignity of people living with mental health conditions. The opposite of isolation is connectedness. The opposite of despair is hope. As leaders and organizations, you can help create these protective factors in the workplace,” said Eduardo Vega, executive director, Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

Joel Bosch, chief operating officer of eCD Market, said, “Why do we not talk about mental health in the workplace? Myths and stigma. Business leaders are our community gatekeepers but are often not trained appropriately. There is no way to break stigma through silence. Business leaders are often champions of a cause, and have the ability to create significant change.”

The Need to Be Open on Mental Illness

Hoarding. Depression. Two instances of attention deficit disorder. These are personality characteristics of different people whom I have reported to over the years. Executives with titles like CEO, president, director or founder. I’m here to tell you that people in the executive suite, just like the rest of society, live with mental illness.

I know this because I’ve worked for them and, more importantly, because I am one of them.

I have lived with chronic depression since I was eight years old. I also, by many measures, have had a rewarding and successful career in consulting and financial services.

I want to share my thoughts on three vital issues: first, why senior executives should lead more conversations in the workplace about mental illness, including suicidal behaviors and suicide prevention; second, why I think it is important; and third, some ways we might be able to start more meaningful dialogue.

In the past, we’ve often treated mental health as a personal issue that individuals must overcome on their own or with a healthcare provider. But addressing mental health conditions such as depression, substance-related disorders, personality disorders and suicidal behaviors is just as important as addressing any other public health issue. Mental health problems are just as critical as childhood obesity, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, stroke or HIV/AIDS.

Over the past few decades, medical science has had great success bringing the death rates down in many diseases. There has been no significant reduction in suicide in more than 50 years. Just as we have  handled other public health issues, we must tackle mental health problems like suicide together in an organized fashion as a total community. Suicide and suicidal behaviors (or SSBs) are complex heterogeneous behaviors commonly manifested in the presence of mental illnesses. They are multifactorial and complex because not all SSBs have the same underlying etiologic factors.

I want to approach mental health from the perspective of my personal story. It is a story about one strategy I believe we can all support to improve mental health in the workplace by reducing stigma and increasing awareness and support, thereby lowering the number of suicides.

While a change of culture has happened with many illnesses that were previously taboo, there is still a silence around mental illness and suicide. This is even more noticeable in the workplace. So, how do we break the silence?

I think there are a number of strategies, many of which we see today: public service campaigns, mental health parity in insurance coverage and workplace programs that provide employee assistance, just to name a few. These are all important components to raising awareness, providing support and changing attitudes. However, I think one of the most effective ways to break the silence is for business leaders who have experience with mental illness and suicide – either personally or through someone close to them – to start talking about it.

I have worked in places where we talked about religion, politics and even gun control. We talked about our physical health. We talked about our families and what we did over the weekend. We talked about our dreams and aspirations. So why in the world wouldn’t we talk about our mental health in the workplace?

We don’t because the stigma is so strong that the topic is buried. Yet when leaders remain silent about mental illness, there is a discernable and substantial cost to the rest of society. Such silence contributes to the misperception that successful people do not get depressed. It keeps people from seeing that treatment allows many individuals to continue in or return to successful professional lives. Silence also contributes to the myth that people who are brilliant or full of life cannot possibly have so much despair as to kill themselves.

They do.  Every day.

Just look at Robin Williams. Most people I know were shocked at the news of his recent death. Honestly, I was shocked that everyone was so surprised. I didn’t know Robin other than as a fan, but I did know he had a history of depression and substance abuse. As a celebrity, this was both the fodder of tabloids as well as the legitimate press. He was very open about his challenges. And, as someone who has lived with depression all his life, I know that frequently depressed people use humor to hide the pain they feel – to keep people from seeing the dark inside that no one wants to see. Like many of us who live with the condition, I believe Robin Williams wore a brighter self in public to distract from the darkness that settled over him behind closed doors.

Most people don’t see depression in others, and that’s by design. We depressed people simply hide ourselves away when we’ve dimmed so as not to shade those who live in the sun.

So the fact that Robin Williams died by suicide was not surprising to me at all. It certainly is a tragic loss of a great entertainer. But watching the mass reaction highlighted to me how little people know about depression and suicide. I even sensed a restraint at first to report his cause of death as suicide. Then, when it became known he had Parkinson’s, it was almost a sigh of relief, as though that, instead of depression, was the real cause. It almost allowed the suicide to be explained away and silenced.

It is this silence that helps perpetuate the stigma of mental illness. The notion is that successful people don’t get depressed and that depressed people are not successful. We know neither of those statements is true. But the stigma perpetuates the myths.

These myths pervade all facets of society, and business leaders are the community gatekeepers. It does not matter whether you are speaking about mega-corporations or small business. Leadership is likely to come into contact with those at risk for suicide or mental health problems. However, these business leaders ordinarily are not trained to be influential.

From the public health perspective, the reduction of stigmatization of mental illness including suicide must be a first step at prevention efforts on a large scale.

There is a difference between those exhibiting a diagnosable mental health issue and those who are able to have access to proper mental health care. This, too, is part of the challenge. Business leaders and those in the public arena have a unique opportunity to lessen this stigma, to mobilize research efforts, to raise money and to educate others who do not have the same financial and educational advantages.

Where I work, we do talk about mental health, depression and suicide. We talk about it because I talk about it.

People look to me to set the tone of the workplace. More than anyone, I am responsible for establishing what is okay and what is not okay to say and do in the office. Whether I like it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. As the senior person in the office, setting the tone and defining what is acceptable is one of the most important roles I play.

There are forward-thinking companies out there providing programs and assistance to employees. Prudential offers an employee assistance program, training for managers to spot distress among employees and health clinics that screen for mood instability and more. Still, the company recommends employees stop short of telling managers about their diagnoses, according to Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, vice president of health and wellness. The reason he gives is, “We don’t want managers to be acting as surrogate counselors.” No company would say the same thing about heart disease or cancer.

Dupont trains managers to identify signs of distress in workers. However, Paul W. Heck, global manager of employee assistance and WorkLife services, says conversations with a boss about a diagnosis “would never be encouraged.” Managers at Dupont who do identify distress are asked to remind employees of the assistance program, which offers free counseling. While these efforts are laudable and provide valuable services to employees, it’s obvious that corporate America still views mental health as something not to be discussed.

It is not just a matter of confidentiality concerns for the firm. The message is to keep silent. But there is no way to break the stigma if we keep silent. And the reality is that the fear is unwarranted, and, if discussion starts at the top, it can easily change attitudes and behaviors.

There is much that business leaders can do. While leaders are more likely to be committed and indeed supportive if they understand what’s in it for the company, the most effective way to gain leadership support is if they personally relate to it. Senior executives like to have a cause, whether it’s cancer, homelessness, youth or any number of issues; business leaders frequently are champions. They use their position and influence to engage the staff, corporate communications, HR and other resources, including the community, to work together to address social needs. Their ability to effect change is vast and untapped when it comes to mental health and suicide. We just need to get them talking about it.

Two years ago, I had wrist problems and had to get physical therapy for several months. In the beginning, I went to a see a therapist twice a week. Everyone knew about my wrist problem. They knew where I went twice a week, and they were sympathetic to what I was experiencing. Today, I no longer need physical therapy, but I do go to a doctor every week. I go to see a different kind of therapist. The kind you talk to and get advice from. In the beginning, I told people I was going to see my psychiatrist. Now, I don’t feel the need to re-enforce the point every time I go to see my therapist, because everyone already knows. Seeing this therapist is just like seeing my physical therapist. I have declared it okay to leave the office to see your doctor, even if that doctor is focused on mental health. I’ve set an example that it’s okay to talk about this at work, and, more importantly that mental health should be treated no differently than any other health concern.

This openness definitely has an impact.  A while back, we were in the office on a Monday morning talking about the weekend. One person had been at the family house on the lake with the extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles. One of his aunts was going through another depressive episode. The employee admitted that in the past when his aunt was depressed he tended to leave her alone and felt she should “just get over it.” But this weekend, he spent time talking to her, listening to her and reassuring her. His exposure to someone living with depression in a different setting allowed him to be more sympathetic and understanding. I’m sure if friends or co-workers exhibited signs of depression, he would be able to be more supportive of them, too. Getting to know a co-worker living with a mental illness changed his attitude.

While I would never have chosen to be born with depression, I have learned to appreciate what it has given me. True, it has presented some significant challenges and difficult times. But these challenges have also given me a tremendous amount of strength and resilience.

I draw on this both in my personal and my professional life. Having been in financial services for much of my career, I have experienced significant work challenges. I led the effort to keep a major financial service provider funded and operating as it went through a downsizing from more than 14,000 to fewer than 4,000 employees. Back in 2007, during the early stages of the financial crisis, I was at a major financial services company when an industry analyst used the “bankruptcy” word speaking about the company. The press descended in droves, customers were concerned and a year later the company was acquired by another bank. In all these situations and many more, I have been counted on as a leader during substantial adversity. Yet these challenges cannot compare to the difficulties I have faced with depression. It is through the struggles with depression that I learned how to attack really difficult situations and how to get through the tough times at work.

Depression has also given me an increased empathy toward others. While I think this manifests itself daily in the way I manage, it certainly helps in those situations when it is most needed.

Once, as soon as I had started a new job, an employee whom I had not met did not show up for work for several days. No one knew what happened until we heard through one of his friends that he was in the hospital psychiatric ward after attempting suicide. He had served in Afghanistan and had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had just bought a house that he and his fiancée were going to move into. But, before moving in, his fiancée broke up with him.

When he got out of the hospital, he contacted another executive he knew. This person knew my background with mental illness and suggested the two of us meet. When we met, it was clear he wasn’t ready to come back to work, so I got him to agree to meet me for coffee twice a week. This was my way of making sure he got out of the house and allowed me to help him with referrals for things like therapists and support groups. I talked with him about being in therapy and how it had helped me. Because the people who hired me knew of my advocacy around mental health, I was brought into the conversation and was able to provide support as this young man started down the road to recovery. I’m happy to say he got the help he needed and now, years later, is thriving.

In the alpha-male-dominated, type A, adrenalin-charged executive suites of corporate America, admitting to weakness of any sort is viewed as taboo and a job-killer. The prevailing view is that people at the top get paid a lot of money and should be able to handle whatever their job throws at them. It is incredibly difficult to find examples in the press of senior executives who have taken a leave or resigned for mental health reasons. And we know death by suicide is often attributed to other causes.

However, we are seeing mental health in the press more and more. Last year, Barclay’s compliance chief resigned after taking a leave of absence for stress and exhaustion. In 2011, the new Lloyd’s chief executive took a leave of absence after eight months on the job for stress-related problems. Last year, the CEO and the CFO of two different companies in Switzerland died by suicide, and their deaths were reported in the press. And I’m sure you are all aware of the recent string of Wall Street suicides. So, while the perception is that people at the top can and should handle anything, the reality is somewhat different.

Clearly, there are people at the top who are experiencing mental health problems. People in the highest offices of corporate America do live with mental illness. Personally, I think depression is a much more common affliction with executives, entrepreneurs and leaders than society is willing to admit.  And, just going by the numbers, many, many more have a family member, relative or friend living with a mental illness. There have to be senior executives who have been affected by suicide.

It seems to me depression is the family secret we all share. Frequently, a bereavement leads to depression, which, in turn leads to suicide of a family member, which can lead to another period of bereavement, depression and suicide. It can be an evil circle.

So how do we create awareness and a sense of urgency around mental health in corporate America? How do we make sure suicide-prevention efforts are supported and sustained? There are many strategies. I’ve already mentioned things like anti-stigma campaigns, health care parity, wellness clinics and employee assistance programs. Together with mass media and extensive research into the causes and treatment of mental illness, we should see a change in corporate cultures. These are critical efforts, and we should continue supporting them.

I’d like to propose one more strategy. That is a concerted campaign targeting senior executive leaders to become mental health and suicide prevention advocates.

How do we accomplish that? Let’s reach out to senior executives in a number of ways. Above all, we have to make talking about, and then communicating about, mental health concerns acceptable in their rarified sphere of influence. Only then can we create support groups, arm them with thorough training about mental health and suicidal behaviors, create speakers bureaus of senior leaders who are open and sharing and teach them to become knowledgeable advocates.

First, let’s provide support for the leaders themselves. Clearly, there are people at the top are who are experiencing mental health problems. Why not create a support network for these individuals? Let’s provide a safe environment for senior executives to talk with their peers about what they are going through – personally and professionally.

Philip Burguieres was the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In 1996, this self-described workaholic had to leave his job because of depression. It was several years before he returned to work. Today, he is a vice chairman of the Houston Texans football team. He is actively sought by CEOs with similar stories. He has been rather public about his very private support of a secret network of CEOs with depression. We could extend Philip’s example to create a safe community for senior executives challenged by mental illness to talk, share, and find support. It could even be positioned as an extension of the increasingly popular executive coach strategy.

Let me give you another example. Last year, the UK arm of Deloitte, the international business advisory firm, appointed a British senior partner, John Binns, as its mental health and personal resilience advisor. Deloitte is one of the most forward-thinking companies with respect to human resources of all the places I have worked. After taking a leave for depression, John created a group of nine mental health champions at Deloitte UK, partners in the firm who were trained to discuss and support mental health in the workplace. He provides one-on-one advice for individuals in the firm who want to speak about mental health issues affecting them or their family. He also provides mental health awareness and advisory services to other businesses across the UK.

We know that most deaths by suicide are by individuals with a diagnosable mental health issue, but only a minority those individuals receive any mental health service. Confronting mental health in the workplace should be an effective method of reducing deaths by suicide. As the stigma is reduced and more people get the care they need to recover, efforts like zero suicides among people who are receiving care become more significant. Moreover, to the degree benefits like employee assistance programs, wellness programs and general awareness and prevention programs are used in the workplace, advocacy by senior management is the best way to make these efforts a sustainable and core part of the organizational culture.

So why do I think this will work? Why should corporate leadership become a major force in mental health efforts including suicide prevention? Why will it make a difference for people with mental illness and suicide attempt survivors to be open in the workplace?

For me, the answer is simple. I’ve been through this before. Coming out of the mental illness closet is not the first closet I’ve come out of. Twenty-three years ago, when I was accepted into business school, I made the decision to be open and honest about being gay. It may not have been a revolutionary act at the time, but it was a time when almost everyone in corporate America still was in the closet. I decided that I didn’t want the next generation to experience the same prejudice, ignorance and stigma that I experienced. I told myself that if I were someplace that didn’t want me because I’m gay, I could take my Stanford bachelor and Kellogg MBA degrees and go somewhere else.

This spring marked my Kellogg 20th anniversary. I ran into someone I knew quite well during school but had lost touch with over the years. While re-connecting at the reunion, he mentioned that he was against my being open while at business school. But now he sees what’s happening with gay marriage and thinks my being open must have made a difference. I look back at the past 25 years, and I know the important role every out and open gay person has played by simply being honest about who they are. And one important lesson we have learned is that to ask others to accept us means we have to accept ourselves.

I think the people living with mental illness and suicide attempt survivors at the corporate level need to come out of the closet. We are the best positioned to shatter the silence. If we can combine this openness with change in the business world driven from the top down, I know we can make a significant impact on the stigma around mental illness and suicide.

I talk about mental health in the workplace because it’s the best way I know to break down the stigma. I want to make a difference, and I can afford to take the risk in an effort to effect change. As the senior executive in charge, setting the tone and defining the organization’s core values is one of the most important roles I play.

Living with depression has not always been easy. However, in many ways it has made me a better person, a better manager and a better business leader. Living with depression has been challenging, but it has not kept me from succeeding.

How to Be Visionary on Mental Health

Once upon a time, there was a national leader who said, “To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or get better.”

Fearing that he might take his life by suicide, his friends confiscated his knives, guns, and razors — anything he could use to harm himself.

This leader? None other than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln called his mental health challenge “melancholy”; today, we would call it a life-threatening depression.

Because of his strength, Lincoln was able to disclose his despondency and received the support he needed from friends and colleagues. If he were alive today, he’d likely be letting others know they are not alone and that getting to the other side of one’s darkest despair is a journey worth taking.

As someone heavily involved in the suicide-prevention movement, I can think of no more compelling call to action to our leaders than to lead boldly about their lived experience with overcoming mental health challenges. Stories of hope and recovery are unparalleled in their ability to shift culture and eliminate the stigma that prevents so many from getting the help that can save lives.

One in four people – at any given time – are experiencing a mental health condition like depression, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or substance abuse, and many leaders have experienced these challenges, either firsthand or by supporting someone they love. Yet most leaders remain closeted about these experiences, succumbing to the stigma that keeps us all stuck in isolation and suffering.

This needs to change.

When leaders are able to be vocal, visible and visionary in sharing stories of their own recovery or experiences supporting others, magic happens. When they fight for the mental wellness of people who follow them, leaders can spark the hope that others need.

Yes, there is risk, but the reward of leading the way through this particular darkness is so great. I know. I speak from experience.

I am a clinical psychologist and hold multiple leadership positions in suicide prevention. Yet, after a perfect storm of life stressors, I experienced an episode of major depression in the spring of 2012. It crippled me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had daily panic attacks that left me heaving. As I was going through this, I had a parallel process. On one hand, I worried about how bad it would get. After watching my brother Carson spiral down in his ultimately fatal depression, I was scared about my own suicide risk. I was also worried about how my vulnerable state would reflect on my ability to maintain my responsibilities. On the other hand, I believed that not only would I get through the depression eventually but that, when I did, I would publicly share my experience. Four months after I pulled through, I wrote a piece that connected my recovery to running a marathon — persisting through the pain until hope of a new reality emerges. I remember watching my finger hover over the button as I made the final decision to publish it, still worrying about how others would respond. Within minutes, I received support from around the world. People let me know how my transparent testimony gave them hope for their own recovery. I felt for the first time a new level of credibility that comes with vulnerability.

Look at those in major leadership roles who have taken the same risk with the same reward. Just to name a few…

  • Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik spoke candidly about his depression and how ultimately it changed him for the better both as a human being and as a politician. He was elected for a second term.
  • Mental health challenges touched icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom attempted suicide as teens or young adults and also experienced depression in adulthood. Many credit their angst as the fuel behind the movements they led.
  • Former congressman Patrick Kennedy tells his story of bipolar disorder and drug addiction and advocates for legislation to eliminate mental health disparities.

Nassir Ghaemi says in A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness that “the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader — quirky, odd, even mentally ill — is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.”

When establishing cultural norms, all eyes are on leadership. If leaders say one thing and yet behave differently, the message is loud and clear. What people experiencing mental health challenges crave are role models who have walked the walk of despair and are now thriving. They want to know there is not only hope of getting to the other side of the long dark night of the soul, but that the struggle will be worth the fight. That perhaps their new insights to recovery, persistence and empowerment will help them achieve their dreams.

Rather than live in fear, leaders can boldly advocate for dignity for people who are experiencing mental health challenges. Leaders’ voices of compassion and courage will help accelerate the tipping of the scale of change and help to save the lives of millions suffering in silence.

It takes great courage to be vulnerable. Everyone is touched by mental health challenges; we just don’t know this about each other. When leaders are able to acknowledge this, compassionately relate their own experiences and call for change, transformation happens.

Be bold.

Suicide Prevention: Talk About It at Work

Suicide is a serious public health problem — but is preventable.

Suicide has a dramatic impact on the workplace in both human and financial terms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2010. There were 38,364 suicides—an average of 105 each day. In addition to the loss of life and suffering of surviving family members, colleagues and friends, the suicides resulted in an estimated $34.6 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.

In addition, for every one suicide, there are 25 attempted suicides. An estimated 8.3 million adults (3.7% of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year.

We want business leaders to understand that suicide prevention IS a workplace issue, and that they can create an environment where individuals are more likely to reach out for the help they need.

You likely already have employee benefits, such as an employee assistance program (EAP), in place that offer valuable resources for employees and family members in need. Unfortunately, most people who attempt suicide do not reach out to the resources that are available to them.

Simply talking can save lives. (Let’s dispel the myth right here – talking about it does not trigger suicidal thoughts or attempts. When the subject of suicide is treated responsibly in a non-sensational manner, discussion can generate increased awareness and understanding, thereby increasing the chance that the person suffering from suicidal thoughts will seek and receive support and help.) When barriers come down and people seek help for mental illness, as many as 90% can significantly reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

So, specifically, what can you do?

You can begin with a campaign to de-stigmatize mental health issues and to encourage people to seek help. Create a supportive environment where corporate leadership shows that they value physical and emotional health. Convey key messages such as, “It’s a sign of strength to ask for help,” and encourage employees to take talk of suicide seriously, whether in a family member, friend or co-worker.

Many employers are beginning to create greater dialogue on this topic. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is the public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. The Workplace Task Force of this group, in particular, has developed several public service announcements targeted at employers and organizational leaders. The group has also developed tools to support the workplace in addressing suicide prevention.

For more information, including a comprehensive blueprint for a workplace suicide prevention program, visit the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Workplace Task Force.

For information on an anti-stigma campaign, visit stampoutstigma.com.

More Issues With Healthcare Privacy

Think your healthcare organization or health plan has healthcare privacy covered? Think again.

A series of supplemental guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in recent weeks is giving healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates even more to do. They must review and update their policies, practices and training for handling protected health information. This is beyond bringing their policies and practices into line with OCR’s restatement and update to the Omnibus Final Rule that OCR published Jan. 25, 2013.

Covered entities generally had to be in compliance by Sept. 23, 2013, but many covered entities and business associates have yet to complete the policy, process and training updates required to comply with the modifications implemented in the Omnibus Final Rule.

Even if a covered entity or business associate completed the updates, however, recent supplemental guidance published by OCR means that most organizations now have even more work to do on HIPAA compliance. This includes the following supplemental guidance concerning its interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA against covered entities and business associates published by OCR since Jan. 1, 2014 alone:

·         HIPAA Privacy Rule and Sharing Information Related to Mental Health

·         Spanish Language Model Notices of Privacy Practices

·         CLIA Program and HIPAA Privacy Rule; Patients' Access to Test Reports

·         Proposed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

Beyond this 2014 guidance, covered entities and their business associates also should look at enforcement actions and data as well as other guidance OCR issued during 2013 after publishing the Omnibus Final Rule, such as:

·         HIPAA Privacy Rule: Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness – A Decision Tool

·         The HIPAA Privacy Rule and Refill Reminders and Other Communications About a Drug or Biologic Currently Being Prescribed for the Individual

·         Health Information of Deceased Individuals

·         Student Immunizations

·         Model Notices of Privacy Practices (English)

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations, covered entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, covered entities and business associates should not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions but should document their commitment and continuing compliance and risk-management activities, while taking well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage business associates to do the same. This documentation could help demonstrate that an organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation.   

When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws, such as: the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information; trade secrets or other sensitive data; and judicial precedent.