Public Health Warns of Records Breach

Department Says 260 Patient Files Accessed by Health Care Center Employee

Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department announced Wednesday morning via a press release that 260 patient records were accessed by a Health Care Center employee who did not have authorization to do so.

According to a Public Health Department investigation, launched immediately after the department learned of the incident, a Health Care Center employee retrieved confidential patient information online “for an unapproved academic data research project,” as stated in a county press release. “We have no reason to believe any identifying information has been shared outside of our department,” Department Director Dr. Takashi Waka said in the release, “The staff member in this incident has been denied access to any additional patient information.”

In a phone interview with The Independent, Dr. Wada added that although the employee accessed the classified information knowingly, “We don’t believe it was being used for any malicious reason.” He could not speak to the nature of the unapproved project, but said authorized employees often access patient records for approved quality improvement projects and data reports.

The Public Health Department has sent notification letters to affected patients. On a case-by-case basis, credit monitoring was offered to patients according to state regulations. The county’s press release states that unless the investigation reveals new information about the incident, neither the Public Health Department nor the State Department of Health Care Services will take further action.

Due to the unauthorized access, all Health Care Center staff members at the county’s six center locations are being re-trained on how to regard confidential information within the Public Health Department, where Dr. Waka says, “Privacy and security are a priority.”

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