NORTH BERGEN, NJ (CBS/AP) -- Staff members at Palisades Medical Center have been suspended for allegedly peeking at actor George Clooney's confidential medical information after he was hurt in a motorcycle accident last month.
Clooney suffered a broken rib and scrapes in the Sept. 21 crash in Weehawken, while his passenger, Sarah Larson, broke her foot. Authorities said the motorcycle and a car collided on a narrow road in the Hudson County town across the Hudson River from New York City.
WCBS-TV reported Tuesday night that as many as 40 staffers, including doctors and nurses, were suspended without pay, accused of accessing Clooney's medical records and possibly providing information to the media, a violation of federal law. However, The Jersey Journal of Jersey City reported that 27 employees, but no doctors, had been disciplined and only for looking at the records without authorization.
Within minutes, the media seemed to know everything about Clooney's condition, reports Scott Weinberger of WCBS.
The investigation was not prompted by a complaint from Clooney.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Clooney said in a statement released late Tuesday. "And while I very much believe in a patient's right to privacy, I would hope that this could be settled without suspending medical workers."
A spokeswoman for the union representing some of the workers said they had been suspended without pay for four weeks.
"We believe this is a harsh penalty and an overreaction," said Jeanne Oterson, a spokeswoman for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, adding that a grievance could be filed pending further investigation.
Oterson told The Associated Press that seven members of her union were among those suspended, but said they had merely accessed the records and not divulged information to anyone outside the hospital.
"The union takes issues of privacy very seriously, whether the patient is George Clooney or John Doe. But none of (the union members) are charged with violating confidentiality, but rather with looking at the records. We feel this penalty involved a rush to judgment because of the fame of the patient involved."
Oterson called on the hospital to change its system that allows people access to patients' medical information so similar situations don't occur in the future.
Eurice Rojas, the hospital's vice president of external affairs, told The Jersey Journal that hospital officials do not believe any employees leaked Clooney's medical information, but some staffers did improperly access his records. Federal law mandates that only direct caregivers - including doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff involved in a patient's care - see such information.
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