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Community Health Systems Pays $5 Million to Settle Multi-State Breach Investigation

Franklin, TN-based Community Health Systems and its subsidiary CHSPCS LLC have settled a multi-state action with 28 state attorneys general for $5 million.

A joint investigation, led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, was launched following a breach of the protected health information (PHI) of 6.1 million individuals in 2014. At the time of the breach, Community Health Systems owned, leased, or operated 206 affiliated hospitals. According to a 2014 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the health system was hacked by a Chinese advanced persistent threat group which installed malware on its systems that was used to steal data. PHI stolen by the hackers included names, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, sex, ethnicity, Social Security numbers, and emergency contact information.

The same breach was investigated by the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, which announced late last month that a settlement had been reached with CHSPCS over the breach and a $2.3 million penalty had been paid to resolve potential HIPAA violations discovered during the breach investigation. In addition to the financial penalty, CHSPCS agreed to adopt a robust corrective action plan to address privacy and security failures discovered by OCR’s investigators.

Victims of the breach took legal action against CHS over the theft of their PHI and CHS settled the class action lawsuit in 2019 for $3.1 million. The latest settlement means CHS and its affiliates have paid $10.4 million in settlements over the breach.

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“A patient’s personal information—especially health information—deserves the highest level of protection,” said Attorney General Slatery. “This settlement will require CHS to provide that moving forward.”

CHS and its affiliates were found to have failed to implement reasonable and appropriate security measures to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information on its systems. “The terms of this settlement will help ensure that patient information will be protected from unlawful use or disclosure,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The states participating in the action were Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

In addition to paying the financial penalty, CHS and its affiliates have agreed to adopt a corrective action plan and implement additional security measures to ensure the security of its systems. Those measures include developing a written incident response plan, providing security awareness and privacy training to all personnel with access to PHI, limiting unnecessary or inappropriate access to systems containing PHI, implementing policies and procedures for its business associates, and conducting regular audits of all business associates.

CHS must also conduct an annual risk assessment, implement and maintain a risk-based penetration testing program, implement and maintain intrusion detection systems, data loss protection measures, and email filtering and anti-phishing solutions. All system activity must be logged, and those logs must be regularly reviewed for suspicious activity.

“Community Health Systems is pleased to have resolved this six-year old matter,” said a spokesperson for CHS in a statement about the settlement. “The company had robust risk controls in place at the time of the attack and worked closely with the FBI and consistently with its recommendations after becoming aware of the attack.”

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.