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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The hospital where a woman delivered octuplets in January has been fined $250,000 after workers pried into her medical records, the first penalty under a new California law prompted by similar cases involving pop star Britney Spears and actress Farrah Fawcett.
Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower, which made worldwide headlines as the place where Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight babies on January 26, was fined because it failed to prevent the privacy breach, California health officials said on Friday.
"Californians should never have to worry that their private medical information will be improperly shared," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, had her own medical records stolen last year.
"That's why California has put in place strong patient privacy laws to ensure that hospitals, health facilities and individuals are held responsible for protecting confidential information," he said. "This fine should be a reminder that there are consequences for violations of medical privacy."
Although California health officials declined to name the patient whose medical records resulted in the fine, the dates, facts and circumstances of the case cited by the state Department of Public Health matched Suleman's.
Jim Anderson, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, said the hospital had brought the case to the attention of the state and had fired an employee as a result. Fourteen other workers resigned, and eight were disciplined.
"This was an extraordinary situation, and it garnered unprecedented media attention, and despite all of our best efforts, it's obvious that curiosity got the best of some people who violated our policies, disregarded their training and ignored many, many warnings given to them," he said.
Suleman was promptly dubbed "Octo-Mom" in the tabloid press, a nickname she subsequently adopted and sought to trademark. She has faced withering criticism for undergoing the fertility treatments that led to her octuplets' birth when she already had six children, while accepting public assistance and living with her mother.
The octuplets' arrival gave the 33-year-old single mother a total of 14 children.
California's new law, which took effect on January 1, was passed by lawmakers following the April 2008, indictment of an administrative specialist at UCLA Medical Center for the theft of medical records for Shriver and Fawcett.
Several other UCLA Medical Center workers were later suspended for prying into the Spears' records. (Editing by Steve Gorman and Doina Chiacu)