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August 6th, 2008

Hundreds Of UCLA Medical Employees Abused Privilege And Looked Into Celebrities Medical Records

More than 120 workers at a Los Angeles hospital looked at celebrities’ medical records and other personal information without permission between January 2004 and June 2006, nearly double the number initially reported earlier this year, according to a state report.

Even after UCLA Medical Center warned employees about severe measures against unauthorized access to medical records, the privacy of a “well-known individual” was breached by two nurses and an emergency room technician who called up the patient’s computerized records in mid-April, according to a critical state report released Monday.

The California Department of Public Health also found that nearly twice as many medical center employees as had previously been reported peeked at confidential medical records at UCLA. Nearly 60 additional employees gained improper access to records between January 2004 and June 2006, the report said, bringing the total number of workers implicated in the growing scandal to 127.

Monday’s report was the fifth by the public health agency following articles in The Times this year about UCLA employees’ prying into the records of celebrities and prominent patients, including California First Lady Maria Shriver, actress Farrah Fawcett and singer Britney Spears. After the April violations, the report said, one nurse was fired and the two other employees received warnings.

State regulators continue to fault the hospital for failure to take adequate steps to maintain patient confidentiality. The latest findings detail how one employee — a former administrative specialist who faces federal criminal charges for violating Fawcett’s privacy — looked at the records of 939 patients “without any legitimate reason” from April 2003 to May 2007.

The hospital has proposed firing seven, suspending six for two to three weeks each and providing verbal or written warnings to eight others, three remain under investigation.

Under the legislation, being carried by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) and Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), healthcare workers who unlawfully view patient records would be fined from $1,000 to $250,000, depending on the seriousness of the violation. Hospitals and other health facilities would face fines of $25,000 to $250,000 for similar violations.

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