Vitter wants BR clinic investigated in privacy

U.S. Sen. David Vitter wants the state health agency to investigate allegations that a Baton Rouge abortion provider is violating patients’ privacy rights.

“If allegations that Delta Clinic mishandled patients’ private health information are true, there needs to be serious consequences for the abortion facility,” Vitter wrote state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert on Tuesday.

“To protect the health and safety of women and children in Louisiana, DHH needs to thoroughly investigate this clinic,” continued Vitter, R-La.

Vitter said his office has received “credible information” that Delta Clinic has violated the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act.

Under federal law, Vitter said, Delta Clinic is supposed to acquire a signed disclosure from any patient before releasing any of her private information to anyone else, especially the public.

DHH investigated similar complaints in 2009 but found nothing of substance.

Kliebert confirmed her office’s receipt of the claims about Delta Clinic.

“Due to the seriousness of the allegations, DHH immediately referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, which is the agency responsible for the enforcement of the HIPAA Privacy Rule,” Kliebert said in a statement. She said the Office of Civil of Rights “is the only office that has the ability to determine if a true HIPAA violation has taken place.”

DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said DHH holds Delta Clinic to the same compliance standards as those for all other medical facilities as it relates to HIPAA and other privacy regulations. If a violation is substantiated, the agency will take action in accordance with applicable procedures.

Delta Clinic administrator Sylvia Cochran did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Vitter’s letter comes a day before the Louisiana House is expected to give final legislative passage to a bill that opponents claim will lead to the closure of Delta Clinic as well as abortion providers in New Orleans and Metairie.

The legislation, House Bill 388, would require abortion providers to have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the procedure is performed. The hospital would have to offer obstetrics and gynecological services.

After expected House approval of a Senate change, HB388 goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk for signing into law.