I work as a Peer Support Specialist and Community Health Worker in Behavioral Health. I'm stationed at our local drop-in center and am responsible for providing peer counseling and facilitating multiple groups each week.
After experiencing frustration about the dearth of relevant services, support and finances, I decided to take action. That has included advocating and planning for the re-creation of our Board, creating an on-site micro-volunteering program which will involve various community organizations and businesses, starting a weekly women's group, looking at fund-raising opportunities and considering small grants, and have acquired the donation of a laptop to be used at the Center.
My question stems from this: because my peers at the center are people living with severe, persistent mental illness and adults with developmental disabilities, they and my work are covered by HIPAA privacy laws. This complicates any involvement in outreach, etc as well as in developing relationships outside of the center. Are there work-arounds and solutions that I can implement to make my work more effective and to reassure my supervisors and management while protecting my peers?
Thank you so much for your email and for your work in the community. As I am not a HIPAA expert, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to provide you with any guidance about workarounds or other strategies. Your best bet is to contact an attorney in your community who understands HIPAA and can advise you (ideally pro bono, or without charge) on the ways you can maintain compliance and still feel you're being as effective as possible. According to FindLaw (a respected legal directory) the kind of attorney most likely to be able to assist you is one who practices with expertise in ERISA (here is the link: http://healthcare.findlaw.com/patient-rights/hipaa-the-health-insurance-... ; at the bottom of this page is a link to a directory) Many large firms encourage their attorneys to bill a percentage of their time to pro bono projects as part of their community service efforts. It may take some time to research attorneys or firms in your area, but that would be your best bet in terms of learning what you can and need to do to both protect the information you need to protect and also do the work you want to do.
I hope this is helpful and that you quickly and easily find a workable solution.
Since my last post here, a colleague offered another idea that I wanted to be sure to share with you. He recommended you contact your state’s disability rights center which would be able to give some solid advice. Contact info can be found here by searching by state: http://www.ndrn.org/index.php
This colleague also suggested that there are accommodations in the HIPAA regs for marketing, but due caution must always be taken. Here’s a good place to look that stuff up: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq
I hope these additional resources are useful for you as you continue to work through your concerns. Best of luck!