Legislation signed by Schwarzenegger means big trouble for hospital snoops

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took action today to enable the state to impose stiff fines on hospital employees who snoop in the files of patients — months after California first lady Maria Shriver was one of several celebrities whose privacy was invaded at UCLA Medical Center. The governor approved the creation of a new state Office of Health Information Integrity, with power to review security plans and violations and assess fines of up to $250,000 against people who violate patient privacy.

The governor’s decision follows a series of reports by The Times during the last year that at least 127 employees at UCLA peeked at the confidential medical records of celebrities including Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett and Shriver.

“Repeated violations of patient confidentiality are potentially harmful to Californians, which is why financial penalties are needed to ensure employees and facilities do not breach confidential medical information,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement after signing AB 211 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), which creates the new oversight office and fines on individuals.

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