Indiana hospital system agrees to pay federal fine

WLFI File Photo
WLFI File Photo

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — A northeastern Indiana hospital system has agreed to pay an $800,000 federal fine to settle potential privacy violations stemming from medical records found dumped outside a physician’s home.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Monday the settlement includes a plan requiring Parkview Health System Inc. to revise its policies and procedures, train staff and provide an implementation report to the department.

The agency said it began an investigation in May 2011 after receiving a complaint from a retiring physician, Dr. Christine Hamilton, alleging that Parkview had violated federal patient privacy rules.

Officials said 71 cardboard boxes of medical records containing data from up to 8,000 patients were left unattended and accessible in June 2009 in the driveway of Hamilton’s home when she was away at the time.

Hamilton was transitioning her patients to new providers when Parkview staff left the medical records at her home, The Journal Gazette reported.

“All too often we receive complaints of records being discarded or transferred in a manner that puts patient information at risk,” said Christina Heide, acting deputy director of health information privacy at the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

“It is imperative that HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates protect patient information during its transfer and disposal,” she said.

Parkview spokesman Eric Clabaugh said the hospital system takes the episode “very seriously,” but it is important to note that patient information did not fall into the wrong hands.

“We regret the actions taken when this incident occurred and will work to ensure it does not happen again,” he said in an email. “The government does not allege that any unauthorized parties viewed any of those records in connection with this.”

Clabaugh said Hamilton was an independent physician and did not work for Parkview. He did not explain why the records were dropped at Hamilton’s home instead of her medical office.

“This was an isolated incident that happened more than five years ago, involving the transition of paper records of a retiring non-Parkview physician,” Clabaugh said.

According to the 2014 Data Breach Industry Forecast by Experian, the health care industry is the most susceptible to publicly disclosed medical record breaches.

“The sheer size of the industry makes it vulnerable when you consider that as Americans, we will spend more than $9,210 per capita on health care,” the report stated.

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