California Regulators Issue First Fines Under New Medical Privacy Law
On Thursday, the California Department of Public Health fined Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower hospital $250,000 for not taking adequate protections to stop employees from improperly accessing the medical records of Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets at the facility in January, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 5/15).
The fine is the first under a state law that took effect Jan. 1.Â The law permits the state to fine health care providers $25,000 for the first breach of a patient's medical records and $17,500 for each additional violation.
The law caps the fines at $250,000 (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16).
A state report indicated that 21 employees and two physicians inappropriately accessed Suleman's medical records 22 times from Jan. 6 to Feb. 19 (Gonzales, Whittier Daily News, 5/15).
Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim BelshÃ© said the state Office of Health Information Integrity is investigating the individuals and considering whether the state will pursue individual penalties (Los Angeles Times, 5/15).
Those involved also could lose their medical licenses, according to HealthLeaders Media (Clark, HealthLeaders Media, 5/15).
Kaiser reported the privacy breaches to the state on Feb. 5 (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16).
Kaiser spokesperson Jim Anderson said the facility had not anticipated the fine (Dillon, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 5/15). He said Kaiser has fired one worker, accepted resignations from 14 others and reprimanded eight other employees (Whitcomb, Reuters, 5/15).
In advance of Suleman's delivery, Anderson said Kaiser provided extra training to employees about privacy laws and later added a prompt to Suleman's electronic health record asking if the employee was authorized to access the file (Whittier Daily News, 5/15).
Kaiser has 10 calendar days to appeal the penalty and 10 working days to file a plan indicating how it will prevent similar violations from occurring in the future (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/16).
Anderson said Kaiser officials are evaluating the appeal option.
BelshÃ© said, "It's the hospital's job to prevent these breaches from occurring, not just crack down after the fact."
In a statement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said, "The fine issued today should be a reminder that there are consequences for violations of medical privacy" (Los Angeles Times, 5/15).
Kathleen Billingsley, deputy director of DPH's Center for Health Care Quality, said there was no evidence that information from Suleman's health records had been leaked to the media (Duke, CNN.com, 5/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.