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How HIPAA laws are preventing family members from helping their loved ones

Are HIPAA Handcuffs keeping people from getting help?
Are HIPAA Handcuffs keeping people from getting help? 04:49

Alycia Schlesinger was finally getting the help she needed more than a year ago after living on the streets. 

After a 2 on Your Side report by CBSLA Investigative Reporter Kristine Lazar, Schlesinger received the medical attention and financial assistance she needed and was once again reunited with her family while working as a personal assistant. 

"There was a part of me that was always holding my breath, but I thought yes, that this was it," Schlesinger's sister Cassie Godwin told Lazar. "She was back to my sister. She was helping other people, she was working, she was with us on holidays. It was like nothing had happened."

Unfortunately, the 50-year-old woman and former motivational speaker had her medication discontinued by her doctor and since then, Godwin said she has regressed. 

Before that happened, Schlesinger had hopes of getting back to working as a motivational speaker. 

But her family is trying to figure out why the doctor opted to discontinue the medication Schlesinger was using. Her family has gotten little to no answers from Schlesinger's former doctor.


Schlesinger was required to attend therapy multiple times a week by the courts, because she had two outstanding felonies. One was from a car chase that we covered in 2017.

But since the doctor discontinued Schlesinger's medication, she has wound up back on the streets in San Fernando Valley. She has been photographed and caught on camera spitting on people's doorbells. 

"Her cycle this time went from 0 to 1000. Before it took 2 to 3 months for her to get into her psychosis. This time it was like 2 weeks," Godwin said. 

Godwin attempted to contact her sister's doctor's office. She told them, "Please let the doctor know Alycia is spiraling and she is going to lose it, and nobody responded."

Kathy Day with the treatment advocacy center told Lazar that family members like Godwin are often cut out of the conversation due to what she calls "HIPAA handcuffs." 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a nation wide medical privacy law.

"The HIPAA handcuffs, that's our inability to get through to provide help to our loved ones when they're in a treatment center, hospital or a jail," Day said.

Stacey Tovino, a medical privacy expert and director of healthcare law at the University of Oklahoma, said that more likely than not the issue isn't HIPPA, it's how medical professionals treat the law.

"A lot of people use HIPAA as a shield. They don't want to disclose something so they blame it on HIPAA but HIPAA may actually allow the disclosure," Tovino said to Lazar. "Usually you don't have a health and privacy law that, if broken can result in a person going to jail and paying criminal penalties. So they don't want to mess with it, so they just blame HIPAA."

Unfortunately, that has left Schlesinger and her family in a tough spot. 

She is now in jail after failing to report to one of her court-mandated therapy sessions. A judge ruled that she is not mentally capable to stand trial and is now waiting for a bed at a state hospital. 

"The last I heard a couple months ago there is a wait list of 1700 inmates to get into these hospitals. We have 5 state hospitals for that," Godwin said. "I have a lot of friends who say when are you going to give up and let her live the life she chose. My sister did not choose this."  

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