Rhode Island Hospital’s Breach of Health Information Leads to Settlement with Massachusetts Attorney General

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

On July 23, 2014, the Massachusetts attorney general announced a settlement with Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island (WIH) over the loss of unencrypted backup tapes. WIH agreed to pay $150,000 and undertake numerous compliance measures, including hiring an independent auditor, to resolve allegations that it failed to protect the personal information (PI) and protected health information (PHI) of more than 12,000 Massachusetts patients under HIPAA and Massachusetts’ data security law. The attorney general also alleged that WIH engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices by not properly protecting the PI and PHI. This marks the third settlement by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for allegations that an entity failed to secure its residents’ PHI and PI under HIPAA and state data security laws. This case serves as a good reminder to organizations to know where their identifiable information resides and to properly secure electronic portable media.

The attorney general alleged that WIH realized in April 2012 that it was missing 19 unencrypted backup tapes, but failed to notify individuals and the attorney general until November 2012. The backup tapes were from two prenatal diagnostic centers, one in Massachusetts and one in Rhode Island. The backup tapes contained names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, dates of exams, physicians’ names, and ultrasound images for 12,127 Massachusetts residents. Information from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights indicates a total of approximately 14,000 affected individuals. The attorney general alleged that these backup tapes were lost in the summer of 2011, but due to inadequate inventory and tracking systems, WIH did not discover the backup tapes were missing until the spring of 2012.

HIPAA requires covered entities to notify individuals of breaches of unsecured protected health information without unreasonable delay and in no case later than 60 calendar days after the date of discovery. HIPAA also requires notification to the HHS secretary for breaches affecting 500 or more individuals within 60 days of the date of discovery. Massachusetts law requires notification to the attorney general and affected residents “as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay.”

The settlement requires WIH to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of its information security practices, including:

  • Notifying the attorney general of any breach or potential breach affecting Massachusetts residents within 30 days;
  • Developing, implementing, maintaining, and adhering to written information security plans, as required by Massachusetts law;
  • Conducting a HIPAA security risk analysis on at least an annual basis;
  • Conducting yearly workforce training on data security and breach reporting;
  • Maintaining an inventory of all paper and unencrypted electronic PI and PHI;
  • Encrypting, erasing, or destroying all PI or PHI on unencrypted portable devices, including laptops, thumb drives, CDs, and USB drives, to the extent feasible;
  • Obtaining certain assurances when using a third party to dispose of PI or PHI; and
  • Engaging an independent audit of its compliance with HIPAA and the Massachusetts data security law and implementing appropriate corrective measures.

Of the $150,000 that WIH agreed to pay, $110,000 is in civil penalties, $25,000 will go to attorneys’ fees and costs, and $15,000 will go to a fund for the attorney general to use for educational or investigational purposes.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Davis Wright Tremaine LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.