PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- With a pending investigation, the Pender County Health Department and Board of Health have come under some heavy criticism. Now there are new allegations including possible HIPAA violations for health director Jack Griffith.
Pender County Commissioners have asked an independent agency to conduct a review of the Health Department. Now a letter from Griffith with comments targeted at one commissioner may have gone too far.
"We don't ask for this," Pender County Commissioner George Brown said. "We don't go out looking for this, but I'm not going to turn my back on folks just because I'm getting the impression it's going to make a department head angry."
Multiple complaints from Pender County Health Department employees led commissioners to ask for an investigation. Last month we spoke with several employees. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job. Their complaints ranged from endangering patients lives to creating a hostile work environment.
"Management evidently either chose to turn their head or not document it," Brown said.
The Board of Health conducted an investigation to find out if there was any drug use within the Health Department, but because there was no documentation, Griffith said the department did not perform drug tests. Griffith declined an on-camera interview at the advice of the Health Department, but he did say, "There is no Medicaid fraud, no drug use and there is training."
Next, questions arose about several members of the Board of Health. Despite the policy of County commissioners two members of the Board of Health have served more than the 10-year limit. County commissioners made an exception for Roberta Bost and Judy Blanchard because it can be hard to find people to fill the positions, but due to some confusion, there was no advertising around the time the positions were set to open up.
"If the positions were not advertised and there were individuals willing to serve, I think we should take a second look at that," Brown said.
Griffith said trying to unseat members from the Board of Health is just an attempt to remove him from the Health Department.
"If they can get rid of the people that support me, what are they going to do next? Get rid of me?" Griffith said.
Since then we have received letters from Griffith to members of the Board of Health and county commissioners. In one of the letters, Griffith says the Health Department received daily assaults from Brown, but Brown says that's not true. Brown responded to the claims in a letter to the county attorney. In it he says, "I am personally attacked and falsely accused once again by Dr. Griffith. This trend of behavior has greatly concerned me."
"Maybe it's the same type of retaliation that I'm hearing about from some of these employees," Brown said.
Then there was another letter.
"I received a letter from Dr. Griffith that came to my house," Brown said. "It was addressed to several individuals, board members, Board of Health members, county commissioners. And in that letter [Griffith] made a statement in which he, in my opinion, released information about one of my family members."
That information related to treatment a family member received at the Health Department. In the letter Griffith said he met Brown "at the back of the health department."
"The fact that he said he met me at the back door, it is untrue," Brown said. I never even saw Dr. Griffith that day."
Brown said he never received special treatment and was very upset information about his family member was released.
"It was degrading," he said. "It was insulting, and it was embarrassing."
It also may have been against the law. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the privacy law "gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information."
"I said what I said in the letter," Griffith told WWAY. "I spoke to a person from HIPAA, and they told me there is no violation of confidentiality."
Griffith also told us he has since sent a letter to Brown apologizing for bringing his family into the situation. We called Roberta Bost, chair of the Board of Health, who said she was aware of the letter, but could not make any additional comments.
Also there have been some questions raised about one of the employees who has been out in front of many of these allegations. Viewers and staff have suggested she was only presenting the allegations because she wants Griffith's job. We spoke to that employee Friday. She says she did want the job at one time, but realizes there is no way she could apply for it now. Still, she stands by her original statements. Griffith said at one time he would have given her his recommendation for the position as Health Director.