Yeah, I don't know either. I made my guess based on the OP having said that the patient came to the hospital because he revoked his hospice status at family's request. It sounds like they exert various pressures upon him (in addition to whatever leeway they gain by the fact that they live together), but whether or not they can independently make decisions on his behalf, I don't know. Kind of doubt it. It sounds, rather, like he just doesn't have a lot of options other than to put up with them and doesn't necessarily have the resources that would be necessary if he wanted to stop being pressured by them.
I disagree in principle. For the sake of explaining, let's think about a this situation as if the verbiage being used in the discussion is decidedly not "smack talk," but is still related to the same basic topics and is still of interest to the eavesdropper (who knows that the fact that the family dynamics were being discussed will be an offense all on their own).
For example, if the charge nurse had been reporting (to the OP) things like, "They do not allow him speak for himself, they cut him off before he can express his wishes. He told me that he doesn't like their actions but they threaten him and are very aggressive with him so he doesn't feel he can do anything. I am also concerned because they are very rough in their speech and actions towards him. For example, yesterday his granddaughter grabbed his chin and got right in his face and screamed at him, 'I'm sick of fking arguing about this and I don't want to hear another word about it!!'"
According to your idea of what constitutes PHI, that isn't PHI. Except that it is...it is all about this gentleman's health as related to his safety, including his psychological/emotional well-being, and including information about his living situation, his vulnerabilities as a individual dependent upon others, and his caregivers. The information is being disclosed by an employee of a covered entity to (presumably) an employee of a different covered entity. The eavesdropper is also an employee of the covered entity and was only anywhere near the discussion d/t her status as an employee of the covered entity.
Even if the conversation had been strictly professional in nature, it is still related to the patient's overall health, care, plan of care, etc., etc. and it still may have riled up the patient's family. No outright disclosure of things like name, SSN, address is necessary because all parties involved already know the identity of the patient in question, in other words, whatever the information is, the subject of it is already identified. It is not 'de-identified' information, and it is health-related care information.
I think what you are saying is that due to the unprofessionalism of the manner in which information was being conveyed, it is not PHI because it was just plain old gossip. I think sounds like it was conveyed completely unprofessionally (I'm pretty sure that is the OP's opinion, too) but it is quite unlikely that it had absolutely nothing to do with the patient's overall health and care.
I do think that employers have been conflating their own privacy practices and PR preferences with HIPAA for so long that our ideas about what constitutes a violation can become skewed, mine included.
Yes. His/her correct action is not to run to the family.
Any of the parties could lie or exaggerate about what really happened. But the most likely thing is that some extent of the information was indeed health related and "official business."
And FTR yes I do think professionalism will have to be stepped up. I'm sure the OP has realized that s/he was not there primarily to affirm the hospital staff's struggles with the family, but primarily to care for the patient. In the future will have to maintain strict professional composure so as to ensure that motives could not be mistaken.