Attorney General Bonta Announces Settlement Against Adventist Over Unauthorized Patient Disclosures to Law Enforcement

Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Hospital failed to protect personal health data of patients Adora Perez and Chelsea Becker

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a settlement with Adventist Health Hanford (Adventist) resolving violations of the Unfair Competition Law, the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s Privacy Rule (HIPAA) related to the unauthorized disclosures to law enforcement of the medical information of two patients—Adora Perez and Chelsea Becker. In both of these cases, the pregnant women went to Adventist seeking medical assistance and suffered stillbirths at the hospital. Adventist personnel provided unauthorized medical details to law enforcement that included protected health information (PHI). Following the unlawful disclosures, both patients were prosecuted for murder and incarcerated. Today’s settlement includes $10,000 in civil penalties and injunctive terms that require Adventist to safeguard patients’ health data from being wrongfully provided and exploited.

“No woman should be penalized for the loss of her pregnancy,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As we have said repeatedly, the wrongful imprisonments of both women due to unauthorized health disclosures to law enforcement were unlawful. That’s why today’s settlement ensures that Adventist’s patients’ personal health information is handled with the utmost care and in compliance with the law, which will restore and enhance patient confidence.”

In December 2017, Ms. Perez suffered a stillbirth at Adventist. Without requiring a warrant, medical personnel provided unauthorized medical information to law enforcement regarding Ms. Perez’s labor, the state of the fetus, and the patient’s alleged drug use, attributing the stillbirth to drug use during pregnancy. Three hours after the unlawful disclosure, law enforcement were in her hospital room asking her to authorize release of her medical records. Shortly after, she was charged by the District Attorney with murder under California Penal Code section 187, allegedly for causing the death of a fetus through drug use. As a result of the enormous potential penalty from the murder charge, Ms. Perez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. In March 2022, the Kings County Superior Court granted Ms. Perez’s motion to vacate both her 11-year prison term and criminal conviction against her for the loss of her pregnancy. Before her conviction was overturned, Ms. Perez spent 4 years in jail.

In September 2019, Chelsea Becker suffered a stillbirth at Adventist and shortly thereafter, Adventist unlawfully disclosed her protected health information to law enforcement. Following this unlawful disclosure, the District Attorney charged Ms. Becker with murder under California Penal Code section 187, allegedly for causing the death of a fetus through drug use. Ms. Becker spent 16 months in jail before the trial court dismissed her case. 

On January 6, 2022, Attorney General Bonta issued a legal alert announcing that Penal Code section 187 does not impose criminal liability on a person carrying a fetus for allegedly causing the miscarriage or stillbirth of that fetus.

The California Department of Justice’s investigation revealed that Adventist failed to protect the personal health information of both Ms. Perez and Ms. Becker. The California Department of Justice sought and received civil penalties and injunctive terms as part of the settlement. The injunctive terms require Adventist to provide robust training of medical personnel when handling patient information and clear guidelines to comply with State law, including:

  • Revise its PHI training materials, policies, and Notice of Privacy Practices documents to clarify when patient PHI may be disclosed to third parties, including law enforcement, without the patient’s consent pursuant to HIPAA, CMIA, and other California laws.
  • Report to the Attorney General’s Office any unauthorized disclosures of patient PHI to law enforcement without the patient’s prior written authorization within 10 days of the unauthorized disclosure.
  • Maintain a telephone and electronic submission hotline to permit personnel, patients, and members of the public to anonymously report suspected unlawful disclosures or mishandling of patient PHI.
  • Require annual mandatory and ongoing training to all personnel who interact with patients or handle PHI regarding PHI policies and procedures, including, but not limited to, those governing the collection, handling, storage, use, and disclosure of PHI.

A copy of the complaint and judgment can be found here and here.

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