Linn Foster Freedman

Linn Foster Freedman

Linn Freedman is chair of the firm’s Data Privacy + Security Team. She is also an active member of firm’s Health Law Group, education practice, Environmental + Utilities Group, Insurance + Reinsurance Group, and Business Litigation Group. Her practice focuses on data privacy and security law, responses to data breaches, compliance with federal and state privacy and security laws, breach notification laws, and assisting clients with regulatory investigations.

Ms. Freedman is experienced in providing counsel to health care organizations, Regional Health Information Organizations, and privacy and security issues related to interoperability of electronic health records. She has litigated complex cases, including privacy cases, and class action data breach litigation in state, federal, and appellate courts, government investigations, and serves as general counsel of the Rhode Island Quality Institute. Read her full rc.com bio here.

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OCR’s Tenth Right to Access Settlement Is Small but Meaningful

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently settled a tenth case under its right-to-access initiative with California-based Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group (RPMG), for $25,000.

Although a relatively small settlement in the amount paid, it shows that the OCR is taking patients’ requests for access to their medical records seriously, and that no complaint is too small to investigate and enforce.…

OCR Settles Another Right-of-Access Initiative Case

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a press release on November 12, 2020, announcing that it had settled its eleventh enforcement action in its HIPAA Right-of-Access Initiative. The settlement with Dr. Rajendra Bhayani, an otolaryngologist (ENT) practicing in Regal Park, New York, included a payment of $15,000, a corrective action plan and two years of monitoring by the OCR.…

ShopRite Settles with New Jersey AG for Data Breach

New Jersey Attorney General (AG) Gurbir S. Grewal announced on November 2, 2020, that his office has settled with ShopRite’s parent company, Wakefern Food Corp. (Wakefern) and two of its supermarket entities for $235,000 for a data breach that occurred in 2016.

According to the press release, the AG alleged that Wakefern violated HIPAA and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) by “failing to properly dispose of electronic devices used to collect the signatures and purchase information of pharmacy customers” in its Kingston and Millville ShopRite stores.…

Warning to Hospitals of Imminent Threat Released by U.S. Government

On October 27, 2020, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned the health care industry about “an imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.”

According to the warning, which was shared during a conference call, the government has received “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.” The information was being shared with participants so that they can take timely precautions to protect their networks from the threat.…

Dignity Health Settles with OCR for $160,000 for Failing to Provide Access to Records

Continuing with its previous enforcement actions centered on covered entities’ failure to provide patients with access to their health records, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced on October 9, 2020 that it entered into a settlement with Dignity Health, doing business as St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix (St. Joseph’s) for $160,000 for failing to respond to multiple requests of a mother for her son’s records.…

Data Breach Regulatory Settlements Update

Regulatory bodies are upping the ante when it comes to settling with companies that have suffered data breaches. In addition to the below settlements, see also the settlement between the OCR and Dignity Health.

Community Health Systems, Inc. Settles for $5 M in Multi-State Settlement

On October 8, 2020, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (AG) announced that his office has entered into a multi-state settlement agreement with Community Health Systems, Inc. (CHS) stemming from an investigation of a 2014 data breach that exposed personal information of approximately 6.1 million …

OCR Settles Five Investigations Under Right of Access Initiative

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced yesterday that it has settled five investigations in its HIPAA Rights to Access Initiative (Initiative), which it announced would be an enforcement priority for it starting in 2019. The Initiative is “to support individuals’ right to timely access to their health records at a reasonable cost under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.”

The addition of the five recent settlements brings the total to seven for OCR’s enforcement of the Initiative. The OCR’s press release states that the recent settlement involve five entities: Housing Works, …

Health Care Providers Continue to Be Hit with Ransomware and Phishing

It doesn’t matter in which  state you are located, how many patients you treat, what kind of medicine you practice or how many employees you have, if you are a health care provider, you are being targeted and hackers are successful in victimizing you.

That’s my take on the recent Becker’s Health IT article that lists 66 healthcare providers around the country that have suffered a cyber-attack in the form of malware, ransomware or a phishing attack in the first six months of 2020. Although we know that health care …

OCR Issues Guidance About Media Access to Health Care Facilities

These days, news stations are frequently running stories concerning people being treated for COVID-19, the providers working tirelessly to care for them, and politicians visiting health care facilities for a first-hand look at the crisis. In response to the media interest, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance on May 5, 2020 to healthcare providers answering the question “Does the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency alter the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s restrictions on disclosures of protected health information to the media?” The guidance reminds them “that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does …

Texas Health and Human Services Fined $1.6 Million for HIPAA Violations

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it has fined the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (TXHHS) $1.6 million for HIPAA violations. This is one of the few fines the OCR has levied against a state agency.

The fine centers around a data breach that TXHHS self-reported to the OCR in June 2015 regarding the personal health information (PHI) of 6,617 individuals that was viewed over the Internet. The information that was publicly accessible includes the individuals’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers and treatment information.…

Jackson Health System Fined by OCR

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced on October 23, 2019 that Jackson Health System (Jackson), a not-for-profit hospital system comprised of six hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing facilities, and primary care and specialty services based in Miami, Florida, has waived its right to a hearing and did not contest the findings set forth in the OCR’s Notice of Proposed Determination (NPD), and has agreed to pay the full civil monetary penalty assessed by OCR. This unusual step means that Jackson will pay the full fine of $2.15 million.

According …

Advanced Care Hospitalists Settles with OCR for $500,000  for Alleged HIPAA Violations

The Office for Civil Rights has announced that it has settled with Lakeland, Florida based Advanced Care Hospitalists (ACH) for $500,000 for allegations of an impermissible disclosure of protected health information by one of its business associates. ACH provides contract internal medicine physicians to nursing homes and hospitals.

According to the press release, between November 2011 and June 2012, ACH engaged an individual who claimed to be a representative of Doctor’s First Choice Billings, Inc., which provides medical billing services. Although the individual used First Choice’s website and company affiliation, …

OCR Issues Reminder on Security Incidents

Following the frequent and varied ransomware attacks on health care entities over the past few years, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published guidance last summer to the health care industry reminding it that a ransomware attack could be a reportable breach under the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. Despite the fact that many health care organizations were victims of ransomware attacks, the OCR commented that many of them did not report the incident or notify patients of the incident.…

HHS Releases Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force Report

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its “Report on Improving Cybersecurity in the Health Care Industry,” which is the culmination of a year-long effort on behalf of the Cybersecurity Task Force, made up of industry professionals from the public and private sectors to identify and develop recommendations “on the growing challenge of cyber-attacks targeting health care.”…

Recent OCR Settlements

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced settlements with healthcare-related entities, including:

  • The OCR entered into a settlement with The Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH) for $31,000.  CCDH is a small for-profit health care provider with seven locations in Illinois. The settlement arose out of an OCR compliance review initiated in August 2015 after an investigation of a CCDH business associate that stored inactive paper medical records for CCDH.  While CCDH had been disclosing PHI to the vendor since 2003, neither party could produce a business associate agreement

OCR Urges Covered Entities and Business Associates to Use HTTPS

New guidance from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) urges covered entities and business associates to use Secure Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTPS) to protect communications from vulnerabilities. According to OCR, the vulnerability can be introduced by the use of products that inspect HTTPS traffic. These products are used to detect malware or unsafe connections, which could allow an interception of the communication. These are called man-in-the-middle attacks.

The OCR advises that covered entities and business associates follow US-CERT guidelines and verify that their HTTPS inspection product validates certificate chains and …

West Virginia University Medicine University Healthcare Patients Victims of Identity Theft

West Virginia University Medicine University Healthcare (WVUM) has confirmed that it is sending notification letters to over 7,400 of its patients seen at Berkeley Medical Center as a result of an unauthorized access to their information. It further confirmed that 113 of its patients have become the victims of identity theft as a result of the theft of patient records by an employee of Berkeley Medical Center (Berkeley).

The Berkeley employee removed patient information from the premises of WVUM through writing information on a pad. The FBI identified the link …

Vanderbilt University Medical Center PHI Breached by Patient Transporters

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) has announced that it will be sending breach notification letters to over 3,000 patients as a result of unauthorized access to PHI by two patient transporters.

According to the announcement, VUMC audited its medical records (as it is required to do by  HIPAA), and found that two individuals who worked as patient transporters accessed 3,247 patient records between May of 2015 and December of 2016 and were unauthorized to do so. The information accessed included data from adults and minors, including names, dates of birth, …

Horizon BCBS of New Jersey Pays State $1.1 million for HIPAA violations

We often forget that state AG’s have jurisdiction under the HIPAA Omnibus Rule to levy fines and penalties against HIPAA covered entities for violations. This is because the Office for Civil Rights has traditionally taken the primary role in enforcing HIPAA. But Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon) was reminded of the AG’s ability to enforce HIPAA when it recently agreed to pay a $1.1 million fine to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs for an incident that occurred in November of 2013  involving the theft …

W2 Phishing Scam Hits Citizens Memorial Hospital

We continue to see all industries hit with W2 phishing scams, including the health care industry.

Citizens Memorial Hospital, located in Bolivar, Missouri, was hit with the scam when one of its employees believed that an email received from another employee was legitimate, and sent the W2s of its employees from 2016 to a hacker. Usually, the W2s are used by the hackers to then file false tax returns seeking a quick tax refund before the taxpayer files his or her return.

Employees continue to fall victim to the scheme …

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