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Prime Healthcare Services fined $95,000 in privacy case

The state Department of Public Health says the company's Shasta Regional Medical Center improperly disclosed a patient's medical files.

November 29, 2012|By Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times

State officials have fined hospital chain Prime Healthcare Services Inc. $95,000 for violating patient confidentiality by sharing a woman's medical files with journalists and sending an email about her treatment to 785 hospital employees.

The California Department of Public Health levied the fine this month after determining in May that Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding had five deficiencies related to the unauthorized disclosure of medical information on a diabetes patient treated there in 2010.

Prime Healthcare, based in Ontario, said it had appealed the state's findings and penalties. "Shasta Regional Medical believes that disclosures, if any, were permitted under both federal and state law," company spokesman Edward Barrera said. "Shasta Regional Medical Center is committed to the privacy of its patients."

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The disclosures were made when the hospital was seeking to respond to a story published by California Watch, a nonprofit news organization, that featured patient Darlene Courtois and allegations that the hospital was overbilling Medicare. The alleged breach of patient confidentiality was revealed in a Jan. 4 column in the Los Angeles Times.

The state agency said it issued an additional $3,100 in fines in the case because the hospital failed to report the breach to the state and the patient in a timely manner.

Separately, the Department of Public Health fined Prime Healthcare $25,000 because a Shasta hospital employee inappropriately accessed a co-worker's medical files in January while the person was being treated there.

Barrera said the hospital terminated the offender after discovering the problem. But he said the company "believes the fine is excessive and has appealed the findings and penalties."

Prime Healthcare and a related nonprofit foundation own or operate 20 hospitals in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas.

chad.terhune@latimes.com

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