Law­suit woes

Stolen records lead to bat­tle with North Shore-lij

Modern Healthcare - - REGIONAL NEWS - Joe Carl­son — with Joseph Conn

North Shore-Long Is­land Jewish Health Sys­tem is fac­ing a wi­den­ing le­gal bat­tle over al­le­ga­tions that it failed to no­tify hun­dreds of pa­tients—in­clud­ing a doc­tor work­ing at the sys­tem—that an iden­tity-theft ring had stolen their un­pro­tected con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion.

Twelve peo­ple have filed a $50 mil­lion class-ac­tion law­suit against the sys­tem and North Shore Univer­sity Hospi­tal, where thieves stole phys­i­cal pa­per records called “face sheets” and un­en­crypted dig­i­tal files that con­tained pa­tient in­for­ma­tion such as in­surance num­bers, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, dates of birth, ad­dresses and med­i­cal his­to­ries. The thefts oc­curred “on or be­fore fall 2010 and con­tin­u­ing at least through 2012,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Plain­tiffs’ at­tor­ney Bonita Zel­man, who also rep­re­sents med­i­cal mal­prac­tice and po­lice bru­tal­ity clients, said at least 20 peo­ple have con­tacted her since the 12-plain­tiff law­suit was filed Feb. 5 in Queens County Supreme Court to say they were also vic­tims of ID theft at the 804-bed hospi­tal in Man­has­sat, N.Y., and were seek­ing to join the case.

Ter­ence Lynam, spokesman for Great Neck, N.Y.-based North Shore-LIJ, con­firmed in an e-mail that two peo­ple have been con­victed and “mul­ti­ple” other peo­ple have been ar­rested for op­er­at­ing “a wide­spread iden­tity theft ring that vic­tim­ized a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions and about 1,000 in­di­vid­u­als through­out the North­east, in­clud­ing about 200 North Shore Univer­sity Hospi­tal pa­tients.”

Lynam said no North Shore em­ploy­ees have been charged in the scheme. He also de­fended how quickly the sys­tem no­ti­fied vic- tims of in­for­ma­tion theft, de­spite al­le­ga­tions in the law­suit that the sys­tem should have in­formed peo­ple sooner.

“Any time we were alerted that any of our pa­tients were af­fected, we sent out let­ters promptly,” he said. “Some folks have com­plained that they weren’t no­ti­fied, and it’s be­cause we didn’t know.”

The vic­tims say the 11-hospi­tal sys­tem failed to no­tify them that their in­for­ma­tion had been com­pro­mised, even as thieves trav­eled the coun­try open­ing credit lines and bank ac­counts in pa­tients’ names, buy­ing iPhones, max­ing out pa­tients’ ex­ist­ing credit cards and even fil­ing bo­gus tax re­turns us­ing vic­tims’ in­for­ma­tion.

One of the peo­ple su­ing the health sys­tem is Dr. Diane Peter­man, who has been em­ployed by North Shore-LIJ for 17 years and was ad­mit­ted for ma­jor surgery as a pa­tient at the sys­tem hospi­tal Jan. 23, 2012, the law­suit says.

Less than two weeks later, po­lice in Ar­ling­ton, Va., dis­cov­ered the face sheet from Peter­man’s pro­ce­dure among a cache of doc­u­ments con­fis­cated dur­ing a rou­tine traf­fic stop there. The health sys­tem learned of the dis­cov­ery Feb.

5, 2012, the law­suit says, yet North Shore of­fi­cials waited un­til March 20 to no­tify her.

In the mean­time, Peter­man re­ceived a bill from AT&T stat­ing that some­one had used her in­for­ma­tion to open five cell phone ac­counts and run up $2,292 in charges, dam­ag­ing her credit rat­ing.

Peter­man works as an emer­gency room physi­cian at the sys­tem’s 299-bed Hunt­ing­ton (N.Y.) Hospi­tal, Lynam con­firmed.

Lynam de­clined to com­ment on whether the stolen files in any of the in­ci­dents had been en­crypted or ad­e­quately pro­tected. But he said the hospi­tal has since taken ag­gres­sive steps to strengthen its se­cu­rity pro­to­cols, and that no iden­tify thefts had been re­ported to the hospi­tal in the past 11 months as a re­sult.

The class-ac­tion law­suit seeks to rep­re­sent any­one who had their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion stolen from North Shore-LIJ hos­pi­tals, al­leg­ing that the sys­tem was neg­li­gent in how it han­dled pa­per records and failed to en­crypt dig­i­tal records, de­spite guar­an­tees in its “Pa­tients’ Bill of Rights,” and then failed to no­tify af­fected pa­tients un­til long af­ter it learned of the thefts.

The plain­tiffs are seek­ing ac­tual fi­nan­cial dam­ages, emo­tional and men­tal dam­ages, and $50 mil­lion in puni­tive dam­ages “to de­ter such fu­ture rep­re­hen­si­ble con­duct and to ad­vance New York state’s strong pub­lic pol­icy of en­sur­ing that pa­tients’ pri­vacy rights … are pro­tected.”

More than 21.5 mil­lion peo­ple na­tion­ally have had their med­i­cal records com­pro­mised since Septem­ber 2009, ac­cord­ing to HHS’ Of­fice of Civil Rights, which com­piles and pub­licly re­ports breaches in­volv­ing 500 or more peo­ple. The North Shore in­ci­dent, which the sys­tem says in­volved 200 pa­tients, is not among the breaches on the list.

More than 60,000 breaches of in­for­ma­tion in­volv­ing fewer than 500 peo­ple have also been re­ported to the Civil Rights Of­fice, though those no­tices are not made pub­lic.

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