St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers, NY, has agreed to settle alleged Privacy Rule violations for $80,000 and must comply with a corrective action plan to address the cause of the alleged violations – namely that members of the workforce impermissibly allowed a reporter to obtain information about three patients being treated for COVID without authorization.
In April 2020, a news reporter visited the St. Joseph’s Medical Center and was given access to clinical information relating to three patients being treated for COVID. The information – including personal identifiers – was subsequently published in an Associated Press article. On becoming aware of the article, HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched an investigation.
The investigation found that, as the patients had not authorized the disclosures of Protected Health Information (PHI), St. Joseph’s Medical Center was in violation of §164.502 of the Privacy Rule. In order to avoid formal proceedings, St. Joseph’s agreed to settle the alleged violations for $80,000 and comply with a corrective action plan for a minimum of two years.
Corrective Action Plan Focuses on Privacy Training
The primary objective of the corrective action plan is to prevent repeat violations. St. Joseph’s must review and revise where necessary all its policies and procedures relating to uses and disclosures of PHI with special attention being given to the use of photographic, video, and audio recording equipment in the medical center and to patient authorizations.
HIPAA training on all Privacy Rule policies and procedures must be provided to all members of the workforce – regardless of their function or their access to PHI – within 60 days of any revised policies being approved by OCR. Refresher Privacy Rule training must also be provided annually, while Security Rule training should be ongoing.
Each member of the workforce must attest that they have received the training and understand the training requirements. Under the terms of the corrective action plan, St. Joseph’s Medical Center must not provide access to PHI to any member of the workforce who does not attest to understanding the training requirements.
In a press release announcing the settlement, OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer said:
“When receiving medical care in hospitals and emergency rooms, patients should not have to worry that providers may disclose their health information to the media without their authorization. Providers must be vigilant about patient privacy and take necessary steps to protect it and follow the law. The Office for Civil Rights will continue to take enforcement actions that puts patient privacy first.”