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County government settles potential HIPAA violations

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Skagit County, Washington, has agreed to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.  Skagit County agreed to a $215,000 monetary settlement and to work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program. Skagit County is located in Northwest Washington, and is home to approximately 118,000 residents. The Skagit County Public Health Department provides essential services to many individuals who would otherwise not be able to afford health care.

“This case marks the first settlement with a county government and sends a strong message about the importance of HIPAA compliance to local and county governments, regardless of size,” said Susan McAndrew, deputy director of health information privacy at the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  “These agencies need to adopt a meaningful compliance program to ensure the privacy and security of patients’ information.”

OCR opened an investigation of Skagit County upon receiving a breach report that money receipts with electronic protected health information (ePHI) of seven individuals were accessed by unknown parties after the ePHI had been inadvertently moved to a publicly accessible server maintained by the County.  OCR’s investigation revealed a broader exposure of protected health information involved in the incident, which included the ePHI of 1,581 individuals. Many of the accessible files involved sensitive information, including protected health information concerning the testing and treatment of infectious diseases.  OCR’s investigation further uncovered general and widespread non-compliance by Skagit County with the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.

Skagit County continues to cooperate with OCR through a corrective action plan to ensure it has in place written policies and procedures, documentation requirements, training, and other measures to comply with the HIPAA Rules.  This corrective action plan also requires Skagit County to provide regular status reports to OCR.

To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/index.html.


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