by Rick Kuwahara CMO of Paubox
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URMC Pays $3M Fine for Failure to Encrypt Mobile Devices

by Rick Kuwahara CMO of Paubox

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has paid a $3 million fine for its non-compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules. URMC is one of the largest health systems in New York State and includes the School of Medicine and Dentistry and Strong Memorial Hospital.

URMC filed two separate breach reports with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2013 and 2017. 

On February 15, 2013, URMC lost an unencrypted flash drive that contained its patients’ protected health information (PHI). On January 26, 2017, URMC again notified OCR that an unencrypted personal laptop of one of its surgeons that contained 43 PHI records was stolen from its facility. 

OCR’s investigation of the breaches 

As a result of these data breaches, OCR conducted investigations that revealed that URMC had disregarded HIPAA compliance rules in both instances. 

During their audit, OCR uncovered that UCMR failed to:

  • conduct an enterprise-wide analysis of the potential risks to the confidentiality and availability of all PHI patient records in URMC’s physical and virtual custody
  • implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities
  • utilize device and media controls in its facility
  • encrypt and decrypt electronic protected health information (ePHI) to a reasonable level to comply with HIPAA

UCMR was also considered a repeat offender as OCR had previously investigated an occurrence of a lost unencrypted flash drive in 2010. At the time, the agency provided UCMR with technical assistance to correct the issue.  

Conclusion

Roger Severino, OCR Director released a firm statement that said “Because theft and loss are constant threats, failing to encrypt mobile devices needlessly puts patient health information at risk. When covered entities are warned of their deficiencies, but fail to fix the problem, they will be held fully responsible for their neglect.”

In addition to the $3 million settlement that UCMR has agreed to pay, OCR also directed UCMR to undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring their compliance with HIPAA rules.