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Ohio Woman Sentenced for Medical Center Fraud

The state of Ohio is relatively quiet when it comes to HIPAA violations, but the past few days have seen the Buckeye State make the headlines twice, after two employees from separate institutions have been disciplined for improperly accessing protected records.

Dr. Aimee Hawley was disciplined by the State Medical Board last week, and this week, Teresa Lewis from South Point, Ohio was sentenced to a year and a day behind bars for two counts of access device fraud against the Huntington Retina Center in West Virginia, although no patient records are understood to have been viewed.

Huntington Retina Center provides primary care for eye injuries and treats disorders of vision and eye diseases. The healthcare provider employed Lewis, 60, as a billing assistant. During this time – between 2012 and 2014 – Lewis used her position and access privileges to improperly view records to obtain credit card numbers of the center and one of its doctors.

With the financial information she obtained, she managed to run up debts of $52,317 over the course of the two years, obtaining goods in the name of the card holders. In addition to the jail term, Lewis has been ordered to repay the debt.

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Chief United States District Judge Robert C. Chambers recently passed the sentence in the case, which involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Huntington Police Department and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, Booth Goodwin, announced the sentence to the media earlier this week. Goodwin is leading a drive to tackle small business theft in West Virginia.

With the public eager to see evidence of a reduction in small business crime and individuals brought to justice for small business theft, the sentence could have been considerably worse. Lewis could potentially have been fined $500,000 for the crimes and could also have received a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for the offenses.

The short jail term and lack of a fine was the result of a plea arrangement, which involved Lewis agreeing to pay back the money she had fraudulently obtained.

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.