Police called Salem Hospital Monday to inquire if Thomas Dill, who has diabetes and had been reported missing by concerned neighbors, had turned up there. But the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which strictly regulates the use and disclosure of patient information, precluded the staff from disclosing he was being treated there, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
Police finally learned the Salem man was at the hospital Wednesday after being tipped off by an anonymous caller, the newspaper said.
"It's a cumbersome law," Salem police Lt. Steve Birr said. "When I managed the missing persons caseload, one of the difficult things is that we have people with mental illnesses, and they could end up in a mental health facility and you would never know it and they would never tell you."
Salem Hospital spokeswoman Sherryll Hoar told the newspaper the law is "very specific about what we can give to police."
"It's not like we are trying to block anything, but there are certain channels under HIPAA," she said.
Birr said the law can put both the police and the hospital in a tough situation. Police didn't need information about Dill's condition and knowing he was a patient would have saved taxpayer dollars and alleviated the worry for Dill's friends, he said.
Dill has since been transferred to an adult care facility.