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Transient arrested in thefts of hospital laptops with patient files

October 23, 2013|By Richard Winton
  • Christopher Lee Brown, 36, was taken into custody in connection with the Oct. 12 thefts of two laptops.
Christopher Lee Brown, 36, was taken into custody in connection with the… (Alhambra Police Department…)

Alhambra police arrested a transient Wednesday who detectives suspect stole two laptops containing 729,000 patient files from a hospital group's administration building.

Christopher Lee Brown, 36, also known as Allen Marcous, was taken into custody at 8:52 a.m. in connection with the Oct. 12 thefts of two laptops, said Sgt. Jerry Johnson of the Alhambra Police Department. The laptops have not yet been recovered, he said.

Brown was allegedly seen on a security video breaking into a sixth-floor office on a medical campus in Alhambra. Johnson said a friend of Brown's worked there and Brown was familiar with the building.

The laptops contain data from patients treated at San Gabriel Valley-based AHMC hospitals: Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, Monterey Park Hospital, Greater El Monte Community Hospital in South El Monte, Whittier Hospital Medical Center, San Gabriel Valley Medical Center and Anaheim Regional Medical Center.

The laptops were taken from a video-monitored office that is patrolled by security, police and hospital officials said.

Under federal law, hospitals are required to report potential medical data breaches. The breach of 729,000 files would rank as the 11th largest in the nation, according to data on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. In California, two other medical groups have had larger data compromises.

Gary Hopkins, a spokesman for AHMC, said the two laptops are password-protected. He said AHMC officials called Alhambra police as soon as the theft was discovered Oct. 14.

According to the hospital group, the computers contained data that included patients' names, Medicare and insurance identification numbers, diagnosis and procedure codes and payment records. A small number of the files contained patients' Social Security numbers, officials said.

There was no evidence the information was accessed or used, but that cannot be ruled out, AHMC Healthcare Inc. officials said in a statement Monday.

"We regret any inconvenience or concern this incident may cause our patients," they said in the statement.

AHMC had asked an auditing firm to perform a security risk assessment before the thefts, and it was following the recommendations, officials said. Administrators will now expedite a policy of encrypting all laptops, they said.

Hospital officials said affected patients may want to place fraud alerts on their credit files and order credit agencies to look for fraudulent activity.

Hopkins said patients with concerns or questions may contact AHMC at (855) 977-6678.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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