Las Vegas Sun

November 1, 2014

Currently: 68° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

UMC chief: Leak of patient information a ‘serious situation’

Kathy Silver outlines concerns of legislative health committee

Image

Tiffany Brown

University Medical Center, which is Clark County’s only publicly funded hospital.

The chief executive of Clark County’s only public hospital assured legislators Wednesday morning that she takes seriously the recent leak of private patient information — social security numbers, birth dates, names, addresses and medical information — that is now being investigated by the FBI.

Kathy Silver was called before the state’s Legislative Committee on Health Care as a result of Las Vegas Sun stories that exposed an allegedly systematic leak of patient information at the hospital.

Silver assured the committee that the hospital is committed to finding out how the leak happened. And when they find the employee “termination will be the least of their problems,” Silver said. “It’s a serious situation.”

The FBI has launched an investigation into the violations of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA — which includes penalties of up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in jail.

The Sun had obtained 21 UMC patient “face sheets” — cover sheets that include an overview of each case — from a source who was concerned about the leak of information. The source told the Sun he was several degrees removed from the leak and did not know how the records were being released from the hospital, but that they were allegedly being sold for months, or even years, to ambulance-chasing attorneys so they could mine for clients.

The legislative committee meets throughout the year to prepare for the 2011 legislative session. The chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, asked Silver what steps have been taken since the breach.

Silver learned of the breach Nov. 19 and said the two face sheets provided to UMC by the Sun showed they were copied early in the stay of each patient — probably on Day One, Silver said. That narrows the number of people who would have had access to the record, she said.

No one knows how many patients had their private information exposed, Silver said. The Sun’s face sheets are from Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, but it’s unknown whether the leak was an isolated incident, a systematic problem or some kind of attempt to embarrass the hospital, Silver said.

There were 71 patients on those two days, Silver said, which means that including family members or guarantors there could be 142 people with their information exposed. The victims will be contacted and provided a year of identity theft monitoring, Silver told the committee.

A hot line set up by the hospital has provided no guidance in the investigation, Silver said.

Hope Hammond, chief privacy officer for Clark County, said officials met five days after learning of the breach to determine how it occurred, and that PIN numbers will be used to track the use of hospital copy machines.

Face sheets will also be modified to hide social security numbers, she said, and additional door locks and electronic controls will be added at the hospital.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

No trusted comments have been posted.