Hospice & Palliative Care Center of Alamance-Caswell notifies 5,370 patients following burglary

Hospice of Alamance Caswell and LifePath Home Health notified approximately 5,370 current and past patients, or their next of kin, about a breach of unsecured personal patient protected health information after an incident occurred at their office.

During the early morning hours of February 24, 2013, there was a break-in at their main office building (not the Hospice Home) at 914 Chapel Hill Road, Burlington. During the break-in, there was vandalism from the discharge of fire extinguishers inside the office, and theft of several items. Two 19-year old suspects have since been arrested by the Burlington Police Department.

The break-in was discovered at approximately 7:40 A.M. on February 25 and was immediately reported to the police. The police investigation turned up a number of empty beer cans in the office, identified the theft of empty needles and syringes, and some miscellaneous items. During the break-in, three laptops were stolen that are used in connection with the provision of care to patients in their own homes. Although the patient database stored on the laptops was fully encrypted to conform to industry standards, the laptops also contained unencrypted emails that contained limited patient health information about a small percentage of patients. The laptops have not been recovered at this time.

During the break-in the perpetrators also had access to rooms that contain paper medical and billing records. The police investigation did not reveal any evidence that any record was touched or viewed, and no records were taken. These paper medical records contained personal information, including name, address, phone number, date of birth, Medicare or other health insurance number, prescribed medications and full or partial Social Security numbers.

Although it does not appear that the files were viewed, Hospice has no way of knowing whether the files were actually viewed. As of this date Hospice has not received any indication that the information has been accessed or used by an unauthorized individual. Hospice is, however, making improvements to the existing physical security of its office building to prevent an incident like this from occurring in the future. This included patients cared for in the hospice, palliative and home health program, known as LifePath.

Hospice has written affected patients or their next of kin, suggesting they place a fraud alert with credit bureaus, and offering free credit monitoring for a year.

In conjunction with local law enforcement and security experts, Hospice is working to mitigate the damages of the breach. Hospice has in place safeguards to ensure the privacy and security of all patient health information. As a result of this breach, steps are underway to further improve the security of its operations and eliminate future risk.

Hospice of Alamance Caswell has trained staff available for patients or family members to call 800-588-8879 during standard business hours Monday through Friday with any questions related to the breach. In addition, patients may visit www.hospiceac.org for further information.

“Hospice of Alamance Caswell understands the importance of safeguarding our patients’ personal information and takes that responsibility very seriously,” said Peter Barcus, Executive Director. “We will do all we can to work with our patients or their loved ones whose personal information may have been compromised and help them work through the process. We sincerely regret that this incident has occurred, and we are committed to prevent future such occurrences. We appreciate our patients’ and families’ support during this time.”

Source: Hospice & Palliative Care Center of Alamance-Caswell.

The Times-News provides some additional details on the arrest and damages to the offices.

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