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OCR Tasks Jocelyn Samuels with HIPAA Enforcement

A new director has been appointed to take over the helm of the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services following the departure of its director, Leon Rodriguez.

An email was recently sent to all staff at the agency confirming that the position has been accepted by Jocelyn Samuels. According to an OCR spokesperson, “Leon is in the process of planning his departure, and we look forward to Jocelyn joining us here at OCR in the near future.” A date has not yet been announced when Samuels will take over at the OCR.

Rodriguez has served as Director since September 2011 and has played an important role in the development of the OCR audit program. He was also committed to increasing the scope of the audits and policing HIPAA more rigorously. He was confirmed as having been accepted for the position of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Department of Homeland Security on June 24, after the senate agreed to his appointment.

Jocelyn Samuels is due to vacate her position as acting assistant attorney general in the civil rights department, where she was tasked with enforcing federal laws covering discrimination on the basis of sex, nationality, race and disability. Prior to that position Samuels served as vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, senior policy attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as labor counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy. Samuels also has experience working in the private sector and has served as a law clerk to a federal judge (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit).

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According to the email sent to OCR staff, “Jocelyn’s wealth of experience and commitment to the mission of OCR will be great assets to her as she takes on this new role. I am looking forward to Jocelyn joining the team here at HHS in the near future.”

One of Samuels’s first tasks will be to ensure that the audit program put in place by her predecessor will commence later this year as planned. The OCR has been criticized for the lack of policing of HIPAA in the past and Samuels will need to ensure that organizations failing to implement the appropriate controls to protect patient health data are held accountable for their lack of action.

However, there has already been an indication that the proposed next round of audits will be delayed. The audits were originally scheduled to take place this fall, but last month, OCR senior advisor for HIPAA compliance and enforcement, Iliana Peters, announced “We’re hopeful that our audits will begin, hopefully the end of this year, early next year,” suggesting there could well be a short delay.

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.