Northwestern Memorial Hospital notifies hospice patients after laptops with personal and medical info stolen from office (updated)

Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Home Hospice in Chicago is notifying patients of a breach involving their unencrypted personal and medical information. Here is their press release, posted to their site on July 25:

Statement Regarding Hospice Burglary and Patient Health Information Breach

On the evening of June 11, 2012, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Home Hospice offices at 676 N. St. Clair Street in Chicago were burglarized and six laptop and tablet computer devices were stolen. Once discovered, the matter was immediately reported to the Chicago Police Department and an internal investigation begun to determine what, if any health information may have been compromised. On June 15th, it was determined that at the time of the theft, the devices were undergoing a software upgrade and standard laptop security controls suspended; therefore leaving personal health information for Northwestern Memorial’s Home Hospice and former Home Health patients accessible.

Accessible personal information on the devices could include: the patient’s personal demographics, including full name, address, date of birth and social security number; the patient’s medical treatment profile related to home hospice or former home health services, including diagnosis, acuity of symptoms, medications, treatment notes and advanced directives; and payor information, including the patient’s health insurance group and policy numbers.

Letters have been sent to impacted patients or their families notifying them of this breach, and mailings will continue to reach as many as possible through mail. We do not believe the personal information stored on the devices was the target of this theft, but we will continue to work closely with the Chicago Police Department to identify the thieves and locate the devices.

We are assisting those affected by providing a credit bureau monitoring service to catch irregularities that may signal identity theft. We recommend that individuals review their credit reports, explanation of benefits statements, and credit card, bank and other financial statements for any unauthorized activity. If individuals believe they have been the victim of identity theft or have reason to believe their personal information has been misused, they should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission and/or the attorney general’s office in Illinois.

We regret and apologize for this incident and are taking decisive measures to mitigate the impact and prevent future breaches. For example, we are reviewing the procedures that resulted in the process failure and limiting the number of patient records stored on laptop and tablet computers.

We appreciate the trust that our patients and their families place in Northwestern Memorial and are committed to resolving this matter and assisting patients who have been affected. Anyone with questions or anyone who believes they may be affected and has not received a notification letter can call (855) 755-8480 and use the reference number 6963071312. Patients can also visit and go to the “Notices” link at the bottom right corner for more information.

For how long had the security controls been suspended at the time of the theft? Was this really just a stroke of bad luck/timing or had the data been left unprotected for longer than was really necessary? Hopefully, HHS will inquire.

Update of Aug. 16:  According to HHS’s breach tool, this incident affected  4,211 patients.

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