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NJ Workers Suspended in Clooney Breach

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DAVID PORTER | October 10, 2007 12:49 PM EST | AP

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NEWARK, N.J. — More than two dozen hospital staffers have been suspended for four weeks after allegedly peeking at George Clooney's confidential medical information after he was hurt in a motorcycle accident last month.

Clooney, 46, suffered a broken rib and scrapes in the Sept. 21 crash, while his passenger, Sarah Larson, 28, injured her foot. Both were treated at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen.

No physicians employed by the hospital were among the 27 employees suspended, said Eurice Rojas, the hospital's vice president of external affairs, Wednesday.

The investigation was initiated after an audit revealed that employees had looked at the records without authorization, Rojas said. The suspensions began last week and continued this week, he said.

"We conduct audits on a regular basis to make sure our systems are protecting individuals' rights," Rojas said. "We conducted an audit immediately with respect to this situation and that resulted in (the investigation)."

"This is the first I've heard of it," Clooney said in a statement 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 as many as seven of the employees may have been authorized to view the records.

"While we believe that individuals need to be held accountable if they violated patient privacy, we also believe that the hospital had a responsibility to establish proper systems to protect patient privacy," Jeanne Otersen, a spokeswoman for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, said in a statement.

"The hospital instead rushed to judgment and imposed harsh economic penalties, instead of working to prevent future breaches of security," Otersen said.

Federal law mandates that only direct caregivers _ including doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff involved in a patient's care _ see such information.

"Our commitment is to always conduct our behavior in the highest possible standards and any conduct that violates the trust of our patients and the high standards we set is taken very seriously and treated in a very serious manner," the hospital said in a statement Wednesday.

Clooney and Larson were injured when the actor's motorcycle and a car collided on a narrow road in Weehawken, across the Hudson River from New York City.