SALEM -- As police and friends searched Monday for a missing 81-year-old man, Salem Hospital refused to tell police he was a patient, citing federal privacy law.

Hospital spokeswoman Sherryll Hoar says it was blocked by the law known as HIPAA.

The Statesman Journal reports police learned Thomas Dill was a patient at Salem Hospital on Wednesday thanks to a tip from an anonymous caller.

Lt. Steve Birr says it's a cumbersome law, especially in missing person cases involving people with mental illnesses.

Birr doesn't think the hospital was being adversarial, but knowing he was a patient would have saved taxpayer dollars and spared Dill's friends anxiety.

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