St. Joseph Health in California agrees to $2.1 million HIPAA settlement

St. Joseph Health in Irvine, Calif., will pay more than $2 million to settle allegations that its 14 hospitals and a host of other healthcare operations left personally identifiable records of 31,800 people exposed on a new computer server.

A file-sharing application on the server had a default setting that allowed Google, other search engines and “anyone with an internet connection” access to them, according to a statement from the Office for Civil Rights at HHS. The files included patients’ personal information, diagnoses and health status, the agency said.

The latest HIPAA settlement is the Obama administration’s 12th this year. That’s a record number in any year since an HHS agency began in 2008 to report enforcement actions against violators of HIPAA.

The government alleges St. Joseph Health failed to evaluate the server’s impact on the security of its IT systems. That left records exposed from Feb. 1, 2011 until Feb. 13, 2012.

The health system has hired a number of contractors to assess “the risks and vulnerabilities” of its protected health information, but their work “was conducted in a patchwork fashion,” the OCR said, adding that the efforts did not meet HIPAA requirements.

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