The health center in Clinton where Dr. Tory Z. Westbrook was accused of sexually assaulting female patients commissioned a private survey in which at least one patient was specifically asked about her comfort level with his medical examinations.
A second patient said she felt from the survey questions that the caller knew she had been a patient of Westbrook's, though his name wasn't mentioned.
Both women were furious about the calls and said the Community Health Center of Clinton had invaded their privacy and violated the federal health confidentiality rule known as HIPAA (part of the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act).
Patient Josie Wright said the survey's caller named Westbrook specifically. Patient Melissa Engel said when she told the caller she was concerned that they were probing her about Westbrook, the caller reacted with silence.
"Shame on the clinic for giving out patient information,'' said Engel, who is former chairwoman of the town council in East Hampton.
The survey company identified itself as Crossroads Group. When the number that showed up on the women's caller IDs was called back, a recording said the number isn't set up to receive calls.
The health center said in a statement Thursday that it has been conducting a routine patient survey for 18 months and has a business agreement with the Crossroads Group that meets HIPAA requirements. The clinic said this was a standard practice and that private information is protected.
The statement said "all questions are neutral in nature with the goal of learning about the perceptions of our patients.''
But the two patients disputed that in interviews with The Courant, saying the content of part of the survey strayed from neutrality.
Westbrook, 43, of Glastonbury, was charged in June with sexually assaulting three patients. Prosecutors revealed this week that more alleged victims have come forward and that Westbrook will face additional charges.
The two women who discussed the phone survey said they never had any problems with Westbrook and remain supportive of him. They each said they felt the clinic was embarking on something of a witch-hunt.
Wright said she was called by Crossroads Group on Tuesday at 5:24 p.m.; Engle was called Thursday at about 1:30 p.m.
The women said the survey started out in a generic way, with questions about parking, the receptionist, the nurses, the waiting room and the cleanliness of the exam areas.
"It was benign at first and I was fine with it," Wright said, "but then they moved directly into my level of comfort and level of concern with Dr. Westbrook. Did I have any problems with his examinations? They also asked me if I was aware that there was a way I could anonymously report complaints against him. I think they were trying to get something against him.
"I was floored,'' said Wright, of Mansfield. "I said, 'Don't you know this is a HIPAA violation? Why are you asking me about my caregiver? How do you even know I was a patient of his? You shouldn't know that.'''
Wright said the survey company also repeatedly called her daughter, who was also a patient of Westbrook's.
Community Health Center spokesman Paul Mayer would not directly answer the question whether Crossroads mentioned Westbrook's name.
"Since we began surveying, we have surveyed patients of all providers in the same way,'' Mayer said.
Wright countered that the caller used Westbrook's name.
"My mental faculties are in order,'' she said. "I know what they asked me. I wouldn't have even had a reaction to the survey if they hadn't mentioned Westbrook's name to me — because I was OK with the rest of it.''
Engel said she was asked by the caller whether she had any concerns about her doctor. Engel then told the caller that it seemed obvious the survey company was reaching out to her because she was a patient of Westbrook's and he had recently been arrested. Told of the contents of the call Wright had received, Engle said the survey company may have stopped mentioning Westbrook by name in subsequent calls.
"They asked me how I would rate the way the clinic keeps information private and I said, 'I would have said excellent, until this call.'"
Engel said she was also asked if she knew she could "safely and confidentially" make a complaint against any caregiver at the clinic who had done anything inappropriate. Engel said she told the caller she had no complaints of that nature.