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HHS requires California medical center to protect patients’ right to privacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEHHS Press Office
Thursday, June 13, 2013(202) 690-6343

News Release

Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) has agreed to a comprehensive corrective action plan to settle a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) investigation concerning potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened a compliance review of SRMC following a Los Angeles Times article which indicated two SRMC senior leaders had met with media to discuss medical services provided to a patient.  OCR’s investigation indicated that SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s protected health information (PHI) from impermissible disclosure by intentionally disclosing PHI to multiple media outlets on at least three separate occasions, without a valid written authorization. OCR’s review indicated that senior management at SRMC impermissibly shared details about the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment in an email to the entire workforce.  In addition, SRMC failed to sanction its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s records pursuant to its internal sanctions policy.

“When senior level executives intentionally and repeatedly violate HIPAA by disclosing identifiable patient information, OCR will respond quickly and decisively to stop such behavior,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “Senior leadership helps define the culture of an organization and is responsible for knowing and complying with the HIPAA privacy and security requirements to ensure patients’ rights are fully protected.”

In addition to a $275,000 monetary settlement, a corrective action plan (CAP) requires SRMC to update its policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from impermissible uses and disclosures and to train its workforce members.  The CAP also requires fifteen other hospitals or medical centers under the same ownership or operational control as SRMC to attest to their understanding of permissible uses and disclosures of PHI, including disclosures to the media.

The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/shasta-agreement.pdf

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