An Alabama woman has been charged with violations of the HIPAA privacy rule for stealing paper surgery schedules of about 4,500 patients from Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham and intending to use the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers to commit identity theft.

Chelsea Catherine Stewart of Alabaster was charged in U.S. District Court under section 1320d-6 of the privacy rule, "Wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information." If convicted of taking the information with the intent to sell, transfer or use for commercial advantage, personal gain or malicious harm, she faces up 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Stewart is charged with taking the schedules--dating back for several years--from a patient registration area on multiple occasions between March 22 and April 8, 2011, while visiting a patient in the hospital. The Birmingham News reports she already was under investigation by federal authorities and local police for a series of credit card fraud incidents and was seen on surveillance tapes making purchases with stolen cards. Authorities found the surgery schedules and handwritten notes such as a "to-do list" on April 8 during a search of a house related to the fraud investigation, according to the newspaper. Local police, the U.S. Postal Service and the Secret Service participated in the investigation.

Trinity Medical Center has notified affected patients and is offering a year of free credit monitoring services from Experian Information Solutions Inc. "As a result of the theft, the hospital is increasing security by changing access to the registration area of the involved department," according to a notice on the hospital's Web page. "All stolen information has been recovered and an arrest has been made in the case. The hospital has no reason to believe this information has been or will be used in a way that would cause harm."


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