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Prosecutors have accused an administrative assistant of illegally accessing UCLA Medical Center patients' health records and selling celebrities' private health information to a national media outlet.
The accusations appeared in an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The indictment states that the former employee, Lawanda Jackson, 49, accessed and transferred the protected information in May 2007 in exchange for at least $4,600 worth of checks that were made out to her husband. The document does not state whose information was breached or which media outlet paid for the information.
The Los Angeles Times linked the indictment to stolen records on Maria Shriver and Farrah Fawcett. The hospital has said that 61 celebrities' records have been illegally accessed and that it fired 13 employees because of the problem. Another six employees faced discipline and six doctors were under investigation. The hospital also said it strengthened its privacy protection practices in light of breaches.
"We are deeply troubled that a former employee may have illegally received payments from a news organization in exchange for providing personal medical information," Dr. David T. Feinberg, CEO and interim vice chancellor of the UCLA Hospital System, said in a news announcement. "We welcome the U.S. Attorney's investigation and stand ready to cooperate in achieving a swift and fair outcome. Meanwhile, we continue to take steps to improve our staff training and information systems to further strengthen the confidentiality of patient records."
It does not appear that the indictment is directly related to the leaking of Britney Spears' health information. Media outlets around the country reported on Spears' behavior and condition while she was held in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Those reports came out long after Jackson quit working at the hospital. Hospital administrators have said subsequent leaks were discovered due to improved auditing systems.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects people's private medical records and allows for civil and criminal penalties -- including imprisonment and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines -- for healthcare information breaches.