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Bayfront pays fine, takes corrective actions following alleged HIPAA violation

Margie Manning



Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg said it has re-trained its staff and added more oversight, following allegations that the hospital failed to provide copies of medical records promptly.

Bayfront agreed to a corrective action plan and paid an $85,000 fine to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after the alleged violation of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, rules.

It’s the first enforcement action and settlement that the federal agency has undertaken after announcing a “Right to Access” initiative earlier this year.

Bayfront, a Level II trauma center and the largest hospital in St. Petersburg with 480 beds, failed to provide a mother timely access to records about her unborn child, HHS said in a news release.

The woman, a patient at Bayfront, asked for fetal heart monitor records starting in October 2017, and had not received them by the time she filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, on Aug. 14, 2018. Initially, Bayfront said the records were not found, according to the resolution agreement and corrective action plan. After additional requests in January and February 2018, Bayfront provided an incomplete set of records in March 2018.  In August 2018, the patient’s attorney got the records, but it was Feb. 7, 2019 before the patient got the records directly from Bayfront, the agreement said.

HIPAA rules generally require healthcare providers to provide medical records within 30 days of the request and providers can only charge a reasonable cost-based fee, HHS said.

In a statement provided to the St. Pete Catalyst, Bayfront said clerical errors were to blame and that it has apologized to the patient, in addition to taking steps to ensure the problems won’t happen again.

“Our hospital has entered into a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan with the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) for delays in fulfilling a patient’s request for medical records. While we responded to the patient’s record requests, clerical errors unfortunately caused a significant delay in fulfilling the entire request for records. Delays in fulfilling requests for access to patient health information do not meet our service standards and we have sincerely apologized to the patient.

“All patients have a right to receive their medical records and we are committed to timely fulfillment of their requests. Working with our release of information vendor, staff have been re-educated on processes, including escalation procedures when requested documents cannot be located. Our hospital has also added more oversight by Health Information Management staff of records requests and processing to ensure patients receive accurate records in a timely manner.”— Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

The corrective action plan was signed Sept. 6 by Sharon Hayes, who began working as Bayfront’s CEO on July 15.

“Providing patients with their health information not only lowers costs and leads to better health outcomes, it’s the law,” OCR director Roger Severino said in the news release. “We aim to hold the health care industry accountable for ignoring peoples’ rights to access their medical records and those of their kids.”

Community Health System (NYSE: CYH), the Nashville, Tennessee-based parent company of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, separately said it is cooperating with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation involving Bayfront and other hospitals in Florida. That probe involves the Florida Low Income Pool Program, a funding pool to support healthcare providers that provide uncompensated care to Florida residents who are uninsured or underinsured. Bayfront received a civil investigative demand on Sept. 14, 2017, seeking documentation related to agreements between the hospital and Pinellas County, Community Health said in an Aug. 6 filing with the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission. On June 13, 10 other Community Health hospitals in Florida received similar CIDs, as did an affiliated management company and the parent company, the filing said.

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