Latest State Report Details Wider Medical Privacy Lapses at UCLA
Almost twice as many UCLA Medical Center employees inappropriately accessed celebrity patients' medical records as initially suspected, according to a report by the California Department of Public Health released on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Kathleen Billingsley, director of DPH's Center for Healthcare Quality, confirmed that 127 UCLA Medical Center workers have been implicated in privacy breaches and that other alleged privacy breaches are being investigated.
The report indicates that one administrative employee alone accessed the records of 939 patients from April 2003 to May 2007 "without any legitimate reason." According to the report, the worker used her supervisor's password to access patients' records, including Social Security numbers, addresses and health insurance information.
The employee, Lawanda Jackson, has been fired and indicted on federal charges for violating actress Farah Fawcett's privacy after details of her cancer treatment were disclosed to the media.
According to the report, at least three UCLA employees inappropriately accessed a prominent patient's records as recently as April, after UCLA officials had pledged action on privacy breaches.
An additional 59 employees were identified in the most recent report as having violated patients' medical records, and 24 still are employed at UCLA. Medical center officials have proposed firing seven of the workers, suspending six and providing warnings to eight. Three employees remain under investigation.
The Times has published a series of reports detailing the privacy lapses at UCLA Medical Center, and the report issued Monday is the fifth from state regulators.
UCLA Medical Center officials say they have notified all patients whose records Jackson accessed.
David Feinberg, CEO of UCLA Health System, acknowledged the problems at the hospital and said that investigations are continuing. He said that employees who violated patients' privacy have been disciplined and that some have been fired.
Partly in response to the UCLA breaches, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has endorsed legislation that would impose financial penalties on health care workers and hospitals for patient privacy breaches.
The legislation, by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) and Assembly member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), would impose fines of $1,000 to $250,000 on health care workers, while hospitals would face fines ranging from $25,000 to $250,000.
The California Hospital Association has not taken a position on the measure but has voiced concerns that hospitals could face fines even when they have taken all appropriate steps to guard patient privacy (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 8/5).