Hospital shared medical files with reporters, state says

State regulators have determined that a California hospital owned by Prime Healthcare Services violated patient confidentiality by sharing a woman's medical files with journalists and sending an email about her treatment to 785 hospital workers.

The California Department of Public Health found that Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding had five deficiencies related to the unauthorized disclosure of medical information on a diabetes patient treated there in 2010. Prime Healthcare, based in Ontario, issued a statement saying it is appealing the state's findings.

"Shasta Regional Medical Center believed and continues to believe that the disclosures, if any, were permitted under both federal and state law," the statement said.

The hospital was seeking to respond to a story published by California Watch, a nonprofit news organization, that featured patient Darlene Courtois and allegations that the hospital was overbilling Medicare. This alleged breach of patient confidentiality was revealed in a column in the Los Angeles Times.

State investigators said the hospital's chief executive and chief medical officer violated state law by disclosing the patient's medical information to media organizations, including the Times, without her authorization and failed to report the violation as required under law. The hospital also sent an email to all hospital employees and medical staff in December 2011 with details about the patient's treatment.

The California Department of Public Health reports that Prime Healthcare, which owns 16 hospitals, could face fines up to $250,000 under state law. The state agency said it would consider levying penalties after reviewing the hospital's efforts to correct the problems cited.