Can you use the previously signed form to get information about your client?
A release (under HIPAA regulations these are now called Authorizations) is only valid if the individual includes the specific information that may be released. Since the form was signed before this particular episode, the patient would not have known (or could not have known) that she was going to have these particular symptoms or hospitalization. Unless the form specifically mentioned "any and all future psychiatric care" or something to this effect, there is no basis to assume that the consent for such potential future information was included in the release.
Can you fax the release form to the clerk at the hospital?
This question reminds me of the important distinction between "can" and "may". You COULD fax the release, however you MAY not from an ethic point of view. The clerk might not be aware of the limitations of this "generic" release, which could lead the clerk to honor your inappropriate request for release of information.
One solution to this problem would be for you to ask the clerk something like this;
I understand you can not confirm if Ms X is a patient at your facility, but I would appreciate if you would ask this individual if you could release information to me IF she is a patient at your facility. I will call back later, and would appreciate if you could give me information about this patient IF she consents to such a release. If she does not consent, I understand that you can't tell me that she is a patient, and would not be able to tell me that she had refused to give her consent. (I have worked for years in the ER, and we often get this type of problem; someone calls to see someone is in the ER. I typically put them on hold, ask the patient if they would like to speak with the person or would like me to speak with the person on the phone. If they agree, I tell them the person is a patient in the ER. If they don't agree, I tell them, "I'm sorry, by federal law we aren't able to tell you anything. We can't even tell you if someone is or is not in our ER)ADDITIONALLY: Prior to your decision to refer her for inpatient treatment, the client was engaged in abusing prescription medication. She was taking the Xanax that her physician had prescribed for her much more quickly than the prescribed dosage. In fact, she had taken 17 mg in the 30 hours prior to admission. She should have only taken 2.5 mg. Does this change anything?
In this case, you are not actually requesting information, you have information that the attending physician/staff would appropriately need to consider in treating the patient. If you considered this information to be serious enough to represent a clear danger to the health or wellbeing of the patient, you may have an obligation (at least ethically) to provide the information to the facility.