Palm Beach County Health Department employee arrested for stealing 2,800 patients' information for tax refund fraud

The Sun-Sentinel reports:

A senior clerk at the Palm Beach Health Department was arrested Tuesday and charged with using her job to steal identity information from more than 2,800 patients.

Salita St. Simon, 30, of Belle Glade, was charged with identity theft, said Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Michael B. Steinbach, the FBI Special Agent in Charge in the Miami Field Office, according to the complaint.

Read more on The Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post.

25WPBF also reports the story, and has an interesting comment from the health department spokesperson:

Tim O’Connor urged any patients with a birth date between 1991 and 1996 to check their credit history.

“Let us know if there’s something funny about it,” he said.

Yeah, OK, Tim. Sure, buddy.

If the department sounds a bit blasé about this, perhaps it’s because they’ve had so many breaches before. As compiled by

  • In 2005, 6,500 HIV positive patients had their names on a confidential list that was accidentally sent in an email to 800 people;
  • In 2005, 15 pages from a confidential list of HIV-positive people was lost or stolen from an analyst’s desk. This incident appeared to be independent of the breach reported two months previously;
  • In 2007, confidential test results of patients who tested positive for various communicable diseases were found in file cabinet being sold at surplus auction;
  • In 2012, a system upgrade left names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other information exposed on the Internet for two months;
  • In 2012, they learned – from others – that hundreds of clients’ names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers had been stolen by a senior clerk in the medical records department; 111 became victims of tax refund fraud; and
  • Now another senior clerk has been arrested for allegedly stealing information for tax refund fraud, and again they neither prevented the breach nor discovered it through their own internal means.

The Palm Beach County Health Department issued the following notice on their web site:

The Palm Beach County Health Department is issuing a public notice that some patients may have had confidential information contained in their records disclosed to an unauthorized source. The breach occurred when an employee took client lists containing names, dates of birth, and social security numbers. It appears that patients born in the years 1991 through 1996 were targeted. Medical information, bank accounts, credit card or other information was not included.

“We are taking every precaution possible and cooperating with law enforcement to assure all records are maintained with the utmost of security,” said Health Department Director Alina Alonso, M.D. Dr. Alonso added that persons who have been a patient of the Palm Beach County Health Department and identified on the lists have been notified by mail.

However, the Health Department has not been able to contact all identified from lists and is issuing this public notice. Persons who have been a patient of the Health Department should review their credit history for any fraudulent or suspicious activities they have not authorized. A free report can be obtained at If you have had fraudulent activity, contact the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office at (561) 688-3771. The health department can answer general questions at 561-671-4014.

The employee was removed from access to any and all health department information.

The security of patient information is of critical importance to the department. The State of Florida, the Florida Department of Health, and Palm Beach County Health Department is fully committed to safeguarding all confidential information.

You’ll understand if I don’t believe their assurances that security of patient information is of critical importance to them.  After learning of a similar breach last year, what did they do in August and since then to prevent what happened again?  If security is of “critical importance,” what access controls or audits did they implement beginning in August 2012 after they learned of the first insider data theft?

I’ll want to see the results of HHS’s investigation of this breach. In the past, HHS informed me that when they investigate an incident, they do not have knowledge of previous breaches the entity may have experienced. It would be helpful if they did look at a fuller history in evaluating whether an entity has really implemented necessary and appropriate security controls.

Related: Press Release from U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida

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