HHS Issues Part Relinquishment of Restrictions and Fines for Secrecy Law Breaches in Storm Harvey Disaster Area

During disasters such as natural calamities, complying with all HIPAA Secrecy Law prerequisites can be a task for hospices and can possibly have an adverse effect on patient treatment and calamity relief attempts.

In emergency circumstances, HIPAA Laws still relate. The HIPAA Secrecy Law lets patient info to be distributed to assist with calamity relief attempts and make sure patients receive the attention they require.

The Secrecy Law lets protected units to communicate patient info for cure intentions, for public health interests, to reveal patient info to friends, family and other people engaged in a patient’s treatment, to lessen or prevent a grave and impending danger to the safety and health of an individual or the general public and, under specific conditions, lets protected units to reveal partial info with the mass media and other people not engaged in a patient’s treatment (45 CFR 164.510(a)).

In such circumstances, any revelations should be restricted to the minimum required information to achieve the objective for which the info is revealed.

Nevertheless, calamities often require easing of HIPAA Laws and the Administrator of the Division of Human and Health might choose to relinquish specific requirements of the HIPAA Secrecy Law according to section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Law and Project Bioshield Law of 2004 (PL 108-276).

For the duration of the Ebola disaster in November 2014, OCR released a relinquishment for specific prerequisites of HIPAA Laws, as was the situation in the direct consequences of Storm Katrina when a relinquishment was released for specific Secrecy Law conditions.

Tom Price, HHS Secretary declared that OCR will relinquish financial penalties and sanctions for certain Secrecy Law breaches for hospices in Louisiana and Texas in the Storm Harvey disaster region.

The relinquishment just relates to the requirements of the HIPAA Secrecy Law as described below:

  • The prerequisites to get a patient’s approval to speak with friends or family members interested in the patient’s treatment. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).
  • The condition to fulfill a request to withdraw from the service manual. See 45 CFR 164.510(a).
  • The necessity to issue a notice of secrecy systems. See 45 CFR 164.520.
  • The patient’s entitlement to request secrecy limitations. See 45 CFR 164.522(a).
  • The patient’s entitlement to request private contacts. See 45 CFR 164.522(b)

These relinquishments only pertain to hospices in the disaster regions that have been named in the public health disaster announcement.

The relinquishment only applies if hospices have introduced calamity rules and the relinquishment relates for 72 hours following the calamity procedure has been applied. The relinquishment will also only be valid until the Secretarial or Presidential announcement ends, even when the 72 hours have not passed.

Additional information on the partial relinquishment of HIPAA restrictions and fines as a consequence of Storm Harvey can be viewed in this HIPAA bulletin from HHS.