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CA Health Records Breaches Net $800,000 in Fines

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, November 22, 2010

Six California hospitals and a convalescent home—including four small rural facilities—must pay nearly $800,000 because of eight health information privacy breaches. 

The violations include two against Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, one of which was assessed at the maximum amount of $250,000 because reports containing lab and other details for 596 patients were placed in an unlocked outdoor locker that was stolen, according to state documents.

Another near maximum fine of $225,000 was levied against Pacific Hospital of Long Beach because an employee obtained personal information on nine patients "and allowed other people to use this information in order to open up fraudulent accounts," such as accounts with Verizon, state documents said. That incident has since become a police matter.

Kaweah Manor Convalescent Hospital in Visalia, 45 miles south of Fresno, received the third highest fine, $125,000, because a Kaweah employee allegedly stole the identities of five patients and used them to redirect their mail and open accounts, according to state documents.

The laws against privacy breaches were passed after information about entertainers such as actress Farrah Fawcett was leaked to the media three years ago.

 
"Every Californian seeking care at a hospital or nursing home should not have to worry about who is viewing their private medical information," said Pam Dickfoss, acting deputy director for theCaliforniaDepartment of Public Health. "It's also a critical part of quality medical care. We remain concerned with violations of patient confidentiality and their potential harm to the residents of California."

Several of the violations involved rural facilities where employees personally knew the patients, and disclosed information about their medical conditions without authorization. In one case, sensitive information about a patient was related to the patient's relatives, and in another to the employee's friends through postings on MySpace, according to state documents.

The round of eight fines is the fourth under privacy laws in California that are the nation's most stringent. The $792,500 in this round of fines brings the total in state privacy breach penalties to $2.2 million. Some of the fines have involved medical record of celebrities, such as Michael Jackson and   Britney Spears.  Last year, the state imposed two fines of $250,000 and $187,000 against Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Bellflower for two separate breaches involving the records of Nadya Suleman and her octuplets.

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