As they work to combat the surging COVID-19 virus, healthcare providers recently were reminded by legislators and regulators of the importance of data security and privacy protections.

On the data security front, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, Tom Cotton, David Perdue, and Mark Warner recently wrote to the Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (“CISA”) and the commanding general of the U.S. Cyber Command to express their “profound concerns” that healthcare providers are “facing an unprecedented and perilous campaign of sophisticated hacking operations from state and criminal actors amid the coronavirus pandemic,” which “pose an alarming risk of disrupting or undermining our public health response at this time of crisis.” The Senators urged CISA and the Cyber Command to issue guidance and provide technical resources to deter these threats.

Beyond their general call for action, the Senators offered specific measures CISA and the Cyber Command should adopt to protect healthcare providers’ data security:

  1. Provide private and public cyber threat intelligence information, such as indicators of compromise (IOCs), on attacks against the healthcare, public health, and research sectors, including malware and ransomware.
  2. Coordinate with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on efforts to increase public awareness on cyberespionage, cybercrime, and disinformation targeting employees and consumers, especially as increased telework poses new risks to companies.
  3. Provide threat assessments, resources, and additional guidance to the National Guard Bureau to ensure that personnel supporting state public health departments and other local emergency management agencies are prepared to defend critical infrastructure from cybersecurity breaches.
  4. Convene and consult partners in the healthcare, public health, and research sectors, including its government and private healthcare councils, on what resources and information are needed to reinforce efforts to defend healthcare IT systems, such as vulnerability detection tools and threat hunting.
  5. Consider issuing public statements regarding hacking operations and disinformation related to the coronavirus for public awareness and to put adversaries on notice, similar to the joint statement on election inference issued on March 2nd.
  6. Evaluate further necessary action to defend forward in order to detect and deter attempts to intrude, exploit, and interfere with the healthcare, public health, and research sectors.

On the heels of this call for action on data security, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services issued additional guidance reminding covered health care providers that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit them to give media and film crews access to facilities where patients’ protected health information will be accessible without the patients’ prior authorization. In this guidance, the OCR reiterated that “it is not sufficient for a covered health care provider to require the media to mask patients’ identities when airing recorded video (such as by blurring, pixelation, or voice alteration), after the fact. Prior, express authorization from the patient is always required.” While this guidance does not break new ground, it serves as a timely reminder as newscasts focus daily on the efforts of healthcare providers to treat COVID-19 patients.

These are difficult times for healthcare providers, but even as they tackle the clinical demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, the developments discussed above demonstrate the importance of continuing to be vigilant in the enforcement of data security and privacy policies.

For more on recent privacy and cybersecurity updates for healthcare providers, check out some of our past blog posts:

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Photo of Michael R. Bertoncini Michael R. Bertoncini

Michael R. Bertoncini is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He practices labor and employment law, with a particular emphasis on labor relations, employment law counseling and litigation, and data privacy and security law.

In labor relations matters…

Michael R. Bertoncini is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He practices labor and employment law, with a particular emphasis on labor relations, employment law counseling and litigation, and data privacy and security law.

In labor relations matters, he regularly counsels clients on the practice of positive employee relations, negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of organized clients, represents clients in labor arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board proceedings, and counsels clients with respect to rights and obligations under collective bargaining agreements and applicable labor and employment laws. He also has extensive experience in advising organizations responding to corporate campaigns and negotiating neutrality agreements.

Mr. Bertoncini’s privacy and data security practice focuses on advising clients on complying with HIPAA and other state and federal privacy and data security laws. He regularly reviews and develops policies and procedures, written information security plans and integrated compliance programs to assist clients in meeting their obligations under privacy and data security laws. Mr. Bertoncini has represented clients in investigations of alleged data breaches and advises them on their reporting obligations in the event of a data breach. He also conducts workplace training programs on HIPAA compliance and related privacy and data security topics.

Before joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Bertoncini was Deputy General Counsel for a hospital system that is the largest fully integrated community care organization in New England. He was responsible for all of the system’s labor and employment law matters, and was involved in its acquisition by a private equity firm as well as its growth from six to ten hospitals in a twelve-month period. His three years as in-house counsel for this large health care system give Mr. Bertoncini a keen understanding of the impact of labor and employment law issues on clients’ business operations.

In addition to his labor relations and privacy experience, Mr. Bertoncini has extensive experience in conducting internal investigations and counseling clients on whistleblower and retaliation matters, as well as negotiating executive agreements, both employment and separation agreements. Mr. Bertoncini also represents clients in the litigation of employment matters. His litigation experience includes matters before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. He has appeared before United States Courts of Appeals and District Courts, Massachusetts and New York state courts, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Mr. Bertoncini is a frequent speaker and trainer on labor and employment law topics for various organizations including Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Council on Education in Management, Lorman Education Services, the Boston Bar Association, and several chambers of commerce.

While attending Boston College, he received the John A. McCarthy, SJ Award for the most distinguished Scholar of the College thesis.