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Florida Hospital Settles Dispute Over Unborn Baby's Records

By Steven Porter  
   September 10, 2019

The agreement marks the first of its kind since the HHS Office for Civil Rights launched its Rights of Access initiative.

After failing initially to comply with a woman's request for records about her unborn child, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg reached a settlement with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to resolve a potential violation of the law.

The 480-bed hospital in Florida paid $85,000 to HHS OCR and implemented a corrective action plan to ensure compliance with the right-of-access provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules, according to an HHS OCR announcement.

"We aim to hold the health care industry accountable for ignoring peoples' rights to access their medical records and those of their kids," said HHS OCR Director Roger Severino in the statement describing the settlement as the office's first enforcement action since launching its Rights of Access initiative.

Although providers are generally required to provide records within 30 days, Bayfront furnished the requested records more than nine months after the initial request was made, after HHS OCR launched its investigation, based on the mother's complaint, according to the announcement.

The woman had requested fetal heart monitor records, but Bayfront staff told her the records were not found, according to the resolution agreement.

A spokesperson for Bayfront told HealthLeaders in a statement that the hospital regrets and takes responsibility for the situation that led to the complaint and ultimate settlement.

"While we responded to the patient's record requests, clerical errors unfortunately caused a significant delay in fulfilling the entire request for records," the spokesperson said. "Delays in fulfilling requests for access to patient health information do not meet our service standards and we have sincerely apologized to the patient."

"All patients have a right to receive their medical records and we are committed to timely fulfillment of their requests," the spokesperson added. "Working with our release of information vendor, staff have been re-educated on processes, including escalation procedures when requested documents cannot be located. Our hospital has also added more oversight by Health Information Management staff of records requests and processing to ensure patients receive accurate records in a timely manner."

The corrective action plan includes a year of HHS OCR monitoring.

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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