SALEM, Ore. -- Police were searching for a missing man for two days until they realized Thomas Dill wasn’t missing at all. He had been in the hospital for a week and a half following a car crash.
Staffers at Salem Hospital failed to inform police of this crucial piece of information because of a federal privacy law. HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, limits what information medical personnel can release to the public and police.
But in this case, police think the hospital took it too far when a staffer told officers Dill wasn’t there.
When police began investigating the case, there were some strange signs. His apartment was unlocked. Dill’s white sports car was in the parking lot with the window down.
Police knew the retired steel worker had diabetes, so they issued a news bulletin in hopes someone knew his whereabouts.
“Mr. Dill had simply vanished in our opinion,” Lt. Steve Birr said.
He had been at the Salem Hospital all along.
Police did receive two anonymous phone calls, which Birr believes were hospital staff.
“They were concerned. They didn’t want to violate HIPAA, but they didn’t want us to be looking for someone who had been found.”
The privacy law says hospitals can release information to police when they are “identifying or locating a suspect, fugitive, material witness or missing person.”
When reached for comment, a hospital spokesman said the hospital was looking into the situation.
“Patient privacy and safety is our No. 1 concern,” hospital spokesman Mark Glyzewski said. “We also want to ensure that we’re doing the right thing legally.”