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Cottage Health Required to Pay Penalty, Update Security in Data-Breach Settlement

Agreement with Attorney General's Office stemming from incidents that exposed more than 50,000 patient records includes $2 million fine

The California Attorney General’s Office  on Wednesday announced a $2 million settlement with Cottage Health regarding two unrelated data breaches, in which medical information from more than 50,000 patients was made publicly searchable online Click to view larger
The California Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday announced a $2 million settlement with Cottage Health regarding two unrelated data breaches, in which medical information from more than 50,000 patients was made publicly searchable online (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

The California Attorney General’s Office  on Wednesday announced a $2 million settlement with Cottage Health regarding two unrelated data breaches, in which medical information from more than 50,000 patients was made publicly searchable online.

In addition to the penalty payment, the settlement requires Cottage Health, which operates the Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez Cottage Hospitals, to update its data-security practices, according to Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s Office.

Cottage Health also will be required to have an employee serve as chief privacy officer, and conduct risk assessments.

The complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office alleges that Cottage Health failed to adequately protect patient health information and personal information, and breaches made it accessible and searchable online.

One of Cottage's servers for medical information was connected to the internet without encryption or other permissions that would prevent unauthorized access, according to the Attorney General’s office.

“When patients go to a hospital to seek medical care, the last thing they should have to worry about is having their personal medical information exposed. The law requires health care providers to protect patients' privacy. On both of these counts, Cottage Health failed,”  Becerra said in a statement. 

More than 50,000 patients had personal and medical information compromised from 2011 to 2013, and another 4,500 patients in 2015, the state alleged.

“This settlement involves unrelated data incidents that occurred in 2013 and 2015,” Cottage Health said in a statement Wednesday. “Once we learned of the incidents, our information security team worked to provide quick resolutions. There is no indication that data was used in any malicious way.

“At Cottage Health, we have used this learning to strengthen our system security layers for improved detection and mitigation of vulnerabilities. Upgrades include new system monitoring, firewalls, network intrusion detection, and access management protocols to help protect private data. 

“We value the trust of our community and are committed to continuous advances in technology that enable us to protect patient privacy while providing authorized care providers the timely and effective data needed for medical treatments.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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