Jail Terms for HIPAA Violations by Employees

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The penalties for HIPAA violations by employees can be severe, especially those involving the theft of protected health information.

HIPAA violations by employees can attract a fine of up to $250,000 with a maximum jail term of 10 years and a 2-year jail term for aggravated identity theft.

This month there have been two notable cases of HIPAA violations by employees, one of which has resulted in a fine and imprisonment, with the other likely to result in a longer spell in prison when sentencing takes place in June.

Jail Term for Former Transformations Autism Treatment Center Employee

In February, a former behavioral analyst at the Transformations Autism Treatment Center (TACT) was discovered to have stolen the protected health information of patients following termination.

Jeffrey Luke, 29, of Collierville, TN gained access to a TACT Google Drive account containing the PHI of patients following termination and downloaded the PHI of 300 current and former patients onto his personal computer.

Approximately one month after Luke was terminated, TACT discovered patient information had been remotely accessed and downloaded. An investigation was launched and law enforcement was notified, with the latter alerting the FBI. Luke was identified as the perpetrator from his IP address, with the search of his residence uncovering a computer containing stolen electronic patient records and TACT forms and templates.

Luke’s access rights to Google Drive had been terminated by TACT in accordance with HIPAA Rules; however, after termination, Luke had gained access to a shared Google Drive account and authorized access from his personal Gmail account.

It is unclear exactly how that was achieved after his access rights were terminated. Court documents say Luke hacked the account and law enforcement found evidence Luke had researched how to gain access to the data.

Law enforcement discovered this was not the first time Luke had stolen data from an employer. His computer also contained patient data from another former employer – Somerville, TN-based Behavioral and Counseling Services.

Luke pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 3 years of supervised release. Luke was also ordered to pay $14,941.36 in restitution.

This case sends a message to healthcare employees considering stealing healthcare data to sell, use, or pass on to a new employer, that data theft carries stiff penalties. While Luke will only serve 30 days in jail, he will have a criminal record which will hamper future employment.

Healthcare organizations should also take precautions to minimize the opportunity for ex-employees to access PHI remotely after they have left employment. When an employment contract ends, or an employee is terminated, access to all systems must be blocked and passwords should be changed on any shared accounts.

Nursing Home Employee Pleads Guilty to Theft of Credit Card Numbers

A former employee at a nursing home in St. Louis County, MO has pleaded guilty to the theft of credit card numbers.

Shaniece Borney, 29, of St. Louis County, was employed at a NHC Health Care nursing home between 2016 and 2017. Borney abused her access to the computer system and stole the credit card details of patients. The credit card details were used to make purchases for herself and family members.

Borney faces up to 10 years in jail and could be fined up to $250,000 and will be required to pay restitution to the victims of the fraud. Borney will be sentenced on June 21, 2018.

Former Berkeley Medical Center Employee Sentenced

A former Berkeley Medical Center Employee has escaped a jail term after pleading guilty to one count of identity theft. Roberts also admitted unlawfully acquiring the protected health information of 10 individuals, including their names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and providing that information to her co-defendent, Ajarhi Savimbi Roberts. Her partner in crime will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to bank fraud.

A federal judge ordered Angela Dawn Roberts, also known as Angela Dawn Lee, 42, of Stephenson, Virginia, to 5 years probation. She was also ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.

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