Details emerge on Hospital for Special Surgery breach

On November 15, I reported on some updates to HHS’s breach tool. One of the entries I wrote was:

The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York reported that 537 patients had PHI stolen on March 19, although it’s not clear from HHS’s log whether the data were stolen from a computer or if the computer itself was stolen. There was also reference to “paper” format. I could find nothing on their site to clarify the breach and emailed HSS yesterday to request a copy of their substitute notice or press release on the incident. I’ll update this if/when I get a response.

HSS never responded to my request, but today I finally found what I think may explain that entry.

According to a letter sent by their attorneys on October 23 to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office: on May 31, HSS was contacted by the District Attorney’s Office in NY and informed that American Express had contacted the D.A.’s office to advise that credit card information in HSS’s possession appeared to have been accessed and misused to make purchases online. The D.A. asked HSS not to investigate nor notify anyone so as not to interfere with their criminal investigation, and HSS complied. An employee was subsequently arrested in August and charged with multiple counts of grand larceny and identity theft.

With the permission of the D.A. to now investigate and notify, HSS began its own investigation on August 23. Their investigation was time-consuming, as it included examination of each patient’s paper file. Although their investigation was still ongoing as of the time of their October 23 letter to Maryland, HSS believed that the employee might have accessed names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, passport numbers, driver’s license numbers, treating physician’s name, diagnosis, medical billing/treatment code information, bank account and routing number, credit card number with expiration date and security code, insurance company name and policy number, responsible party payment name, and responsible party payment information. Not all patients had all types of information involved.

HSS provided patients with a number of suggestions as to how to protect themselves, including checking their EOBs. They also offered them free services through AllClear.

You can read the Hospital for Special Surgery’s notification to Maryland and to patients here (pdf).

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