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Cottage Health System Notifies Patients of Data Security Incident

Cottage Health System has learned that a recent security incident may have resulted in the disclosure of protected health information for certain patients treated at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital between Sept. 29, 2009, and Dec. 2, 2013.

On Dec. 2, Cottage discovered that a third-party vendor appeared to have removed electronic security protections from one of its servers, without informing Cottage, resulting in the exposure of certain information stored on the server. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that anyone has used the information contained on this server in any way.

The file contained the information of about 32,500 patients, including the name, address, date of birth and very limited protected health information for some patients related to diagnosis, lab results and procedures performed. The file did not include any Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, health insurance numbers, bank account numbers or any other financial information.

Cottage immediately removed the server from service and conducted a review of all servers to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place. The health system is conducting a complete audit of its security protocols, and is implementing additional measures with the goal of preventing this type of event from occurring in the future.

Cottage has mailed a letter to each patient impacted by this security incident, explaining the disclosure details and providing a toll-free phone number to assist those who have questions. In an abundance of caution, Cottage is offering access to identity restoration services through ID Experts to assist the impacted population in the unlikely event that any exposed information may be misused. ID Experts is a health-care-focused response vendor that has been awarded the American Hospital Association’s exclusive endorsement for response services.

“We deeply regret this incident. Cottage takes its obligation to protect health information very seriously and is taking aggressive steps to safeguard against this type of incident in the future,” said Steve Fellows, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief compliance officer at Cottage. “We want to assure our patients that we are doing a thorough review and have systems in place to address their concerns. We understand that the security vulnerability by our vendor was unintentional and we have no reason to suspect that the limited data exposed might be misused.”

Patients with questions regarding whether their protected health information may have been exposed may contact ID Experts at 877.264.9632.

— Maria Zate is the manager of marketing and public affairs for Cottage Health System.

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