I'm not aware of any federal or state law that would prohibit you from obtaining public information about a patient. The HIPAA privacy rule only prohibits the disclosure
of protected health care information. The Fair Credit Reporting Act only requires account holder consent to review a private credit report
. As for your ethical duties, you owe a duty of care to the patient and obedience to your employer, but if you were not notified in advance that you cannot investigate this type of information by your employer, then the fact that the patient may have been incarcerated in the past -- while it may not be relevant to the patient's care, doesn't violate any law, per se.
That said, Ohio, like every other U.S. jurisdiction (except Montana and Puerto Rico) is an "at will" employment jurisdiction. This means that your employer can terminate your employment at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all (except for terminations based on unlawful discrimination: race, color, nationality, religion, sex, age or disability -- or for a well-established public policy
, such as reporting the employer's criminal activities to law enforcement, or attending jury duty, etc.).
So, the answer is "yes," you can be terminated, whether or not you were engaged in "fact gathering," regardless of the term having no legally cognizable meaning.
You could be reported to the Board of Nursing, but I don't see any ethical violation, so the Board would probably ignore the complaint. And, there is no crime in what you have done.
That about covers the issues, I think. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
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