The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reported that St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City, has paid a $387,000 settlement for potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. The settlement stems from an investigation into the impermissible disclosure of a patient’s protected health information to the patient’s employer.
St. Luke’s, which is one of seven hospitals in the Mount Sinai Health System, also agreed to implement a comprehensive corrective action plan. The agreement is not an admission of liability by St. Luke’s. As part of the corrective action plan, St. Luke's will review and revise, as necessary, its written policies and procedures concerning the uses and disclosures of protected health information, which may include by mail, fax, or other electronic transmission, to comply with the Federal standards that govern the privacy and security of individually identifiable health information.
St. Luke’s operates the Institute for Advanced Medicine, formerly Spencer Cox Center for Health (the Spencer Cox Center), which provides comprehensive health services to persons living with HIV or AIDS and other chronic diseases.
According to a HHS press release, in September 2014, OCR received a complaint alleging that a staff member from the Spencer Cox Center impermissibly disclosed the complainant’s protected health information (PHI) by faxing his medical records to his employer. This impermissible disclosure included sensitive information concerning HIV status, medical care, sexually transmitted diseases, medications, sexual orientation, mental health diagnosis, and physical abuse, according to HHS OCR.
“OCR’s subsequent investigation revealed that staff at the Spencer Cox Center impermissibly faxed the patient’s PHI to his employer rather than sending it to the requested personal post office box. Additionally, in its investigation, according to the resolution agreement, OCR discovered that the Spencer Cox Center was responsible for a related breach of sensitive information that occurred nine months prior to the aforementioned incident, but had not addressed the vulnerabilities in their compliance program to prevent impermissible disclosures. In that incident, a staff member faxed a patient’s PHI to an office at which he volunteered.
Roger Severino, OCR director, said in a prepared statement, “Individuals cannot trust in a health care system that does not appropriately safeguard their most sensitive PHI. Covered entities and business associates have the responsibility under HIPAA to both identify and actually implement these safeguards. In exercising its enforcement authority, OCR takes into consideration aggravating factors such as the nature and extent of the harm caused by failure to comply with HIPAA requirements.”
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