1,040 Sentara Heart Hospital patients notified of HIPAA breach

Elizabeth Simpson reports that a person or persons managed to steal two portable hard drives with PHI from two electrophysiology labs at Sentara Heart Hospital in August:

The August theft of two portable hard drives from Sentara Heart Hospital’s electrophysiology labs led hospital officials to send letters about a security breach this week to 1,040 patients.

The theft occurred during the weekend of Aug. 14. Patients were informed who had tests in the labs between Sept. 4, 2014, and Aug. 14. The hard drives included birthdates, names, diagnoses, type of procedure and other clinical notes. There were no Social Security numbers or addresses in the hard drives.

Read more on PilotOnline.com.

The following statement and copy of notification letter was posted on Sentara Heart Hospital’s web site today:

The letter copied below was sent this week to 1,040 patients who underwent electrophysiology procedures at Sentara Heart Hospital in one of the electrophysiology labs between Sept. 4, 2014 and Aug. 14, 2015. The patient information on the portable hard drives was limited to name, date of birth and a unique patient identification number produced by Sentara, plus physician notes about the procedures.

Background: Due to the number of patients affected, we are required by federal law to provide notification to patients and the news media and post the notification on our website. However, the Sentara Privacy and Compliance team notifies patients under most circumstances involving protected health information, to keep our patients informed and assure them of our continuing efforts to protect their personal information.

Details: The theft occurred over the weekend of August 14 in a procedure area normally restricted to staff and patients. We believe these small portable hard drives were stolen for whatever street value they may have, and not for purposes of identity theft or fraud. The identifying information is so limited it does not facilitate fraud. The information on the drives is purely clinical. Updated procedures are in place for the secure storage of these devices. We sincerely regret any concern or inconvenience the theft of these devices may cause our patients.

Resolution: The hospital’s Risk Management team notified Norfolk Police of the theft. The Risk Management team and the Sentara system Privacy manager conducted an internal investigation, including interviews with personnel assigned to Sentara Heart Hospital that weekend, and closed the investigation on September 29. Portable hard drives are now secured in a locked drawer at all times, connected by cable to the laptops being used. Only management personnel have keys. Additional security improvements are planned to further limit access to the clinical area affected.

The Letter:

As part of the Sentara Commitments to you, our patient, we strive to protect the confidentiality of your personal information. Regrettably, we are writing to inform you of an incident involving that information.

On Aug. 20, 2015, Sentara first learned that two unencrypted hard drives were missing from two Electrophysiology labs located within Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk Virginia. We immediately began our own internal investigation.

The information on the hard drives contained backups of electronic notes taken during procedures performed in those two rooms. The information included your name, unique medical record number, date of birth, procedure date, diagnosis, procedure, surgeon and staff names, allergies, notes and medications that relate only to the procedure performed. The hard drives did not include your social security number or billing information.

We assure you that we are committed to the security of your personal information and are taking this matter very seriously. To help prevent this from happening in the future, we are reevaluating the access to these lab rooms and working to ensure the backup drives will be protected.

If you have any questions, or you need further assistance, you may contact 1-844-322-8235, between the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Please refer to incident number COE151471.

Greg Burkhart 
Chief Compliance Officer 
Chief Privacy Officer

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