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Civil Rights Office Under HHS resolves HIPAA Review on St. Joseph's Medical Center

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

The Office for Civil Rights under the Department of Health and Human Services has resolved a HIPAA investigation involving St. Joseph's Medical Center for the unauthorized disclosure of patients' protected health information to a news reporter. St. Joseph’s Medical Center granted a national media organization permission to access the protected health information of COVID-19 patients.




The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that they have reached a settlement with Saint Joseph’s Medical Center over potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.


Saint Joseph’s Medical Center, which is a non-profit academic medical center in New York providing a wide range of healthcare services, was found to have disclosed protected health information of COVID-19 patients to a national media outlet.


“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,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “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.”


The investigation by OCR was initiated after the Associated Press published an article containing photographs and information about the medical center's response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, which inadvertently exposed sensitive patient information. This included details about patients' COVID-19 diagnoses, current health status, medical prognoses, vital signs, and treatment plans.

Based on their findings, OCR determined that Saint Joseph’s Medical Center had disclosed the protected health information of three patients to the Associated Press without obtaining written authorization from the patients, potentially violating HIPAA Privacy Rule.


As per the rule, covered entities, including healthcare providers, are prohibited from disclosing protected health information unless it is permitted or required by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, or if the individual or their representative provides written authorization.


Consequently, healthcare entities are prohibited from disclosing a patient's protected health information to the media without first obtaining written authorization. This includes instances where healthcare providers have media personnel present on their premises.


In order to resolve the issue, Saint Joseph’s Medical Center agreed to pay $80,000 to OCR and to implement a corrective action plan that includes developing written policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule.


The medical center has also agreed to train its staff on these revised policies and procedures. OCR will monitor Saint Joseph’s Medical Center for a period of two years to ensure compliance with the corrective action plan and the law.


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