How HIPAA Laws Prevent Family Members From Helping Their Loved Ones

Alicia Schlesinger finally got the help she needed over a year ago after living on the streets.

After Report 2 on Your Side by CBSLA investigative reporter Kristen Lazar, Schlesinger received the medical care and financial assistance she needed and was reunited with her family while working as a personal assistant.

“There was a part of me that was always holding my breath, but I thought yeah, that’s it,” Cassie Goodwin, Schlesinger’s sister, told Lazar. “She came back to my sister. She was helping others, she was working, she was with us on the holidays. It was like nothing had happened.”

Unfortunately, the 50-year-old woman and former motivational speaker was stopped by her doctor, and since then, Goodwin said she’s regressed.

Before that happened, Schlesinger hoped to return to work as a motivational speaker.

But her family is trying to figure out why the doctor chose to stop the medication Schlesinger was taking. Her family got few answers from a former Schlesinger doctor.

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CBSLA


Schlesinger was required to attend therapy several times a week by the courts, as she had been suffering from two high-profile crimes. One of them was from a car chase we covered in 2017.

But since the doctor stopped taking Schlesinger’s medication, she’s back on the streets in the San Fernando Valley. She was photographed and captured on camera spitting on people’s doorbell.

“Her cycle this time was from zero to 1,000,” Goodwin said. “Before she entered her psychosis it took two to three months. This time it was like two weeks.”

Goodwin tried calling her sister’s doctor’s office. She said to them, “Please tell the doctor that Alicia is escaping and you are going to lose her, and no one answered.”

Cathy Day of the Center for Therapy Advocacy told Lazar that family members like Goodwin are often left out of the conversation because of what she calls “HIPAA handcuffs.”

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a nationwide medical privacy law.

“The limitation of HIPAA, this is our inability to provide assistance to our loved ones when they are in a treatment center, hospital or prison,” Day said.

The problem likely isn’t HEPA, it’s the way medical professionals approach the law, said Stacey Tofino, a medical privacy expert and director of health care law at the University of Oklahoma.

“A lot of people use HIPAA as a shield. They don’t want to reveal something, so they blame it on HIPAA, but HIPAA might actually allow detection,” Tofino told Lazar. “Usually you don’t have a health and privacy law, if it’s violated it can lead to someone being imprisoned and paying criminal penalties. So they don’t want to mess with it, so they just blame HIPAA.”

Unfortunately, that left Schlesinger and her family in a difficult situation.

She is now in prison after failing to appear for a court-mandated treatment session. A judge has ruled that she is mentally unable to appear in court and is now waiting for a bed in a government hospital.

“The last time I heard it was two months ago there is a waiting list for 1,700 inmates to get into these hospitals,” Goodwin said. “We have 5 government hospitals for that.” “I have a lot of friends who say when are you going to give up and let her live the life she chooses. My sister didn’t choose that.”

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