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Just ‘nosy,’ says figure in medical data scandal

Times Staff Writer

The UCLA Medical Center employee who allegedly pried into the private medical records of the governor’s wife and 60 others in a burgeoning scandal was a low-ranking administrative specialist who told The Times on Tuesday that “it was just me being nosy.”

“Clearly I made a mistake; let’s put it like that,” Lawanda J. Jackson, 49, said when asked in a telephone interview why she improperly looked at the records of so many patients, including California First Lady Maria Shriver and actress Farrah Fawcett.

“I didn’t leak anything or anything like that,” said Jackson, who had worked at the hospital since she was 16. “It wasn’t for money or anything. It was just looking.”

UCLA took steps last May to fire Jackson after determining that she had inappropriately accessed dozens of electronic medical records, UCLA officials say. But the employee resigned in July before she could be fired, spokeswoman Roxanne Moster said. (Previously, the hospital told The Times that it had fired Jackson.)

Neither UCLA nor state health officials have confirmed Jackson’s identity, but The Times was able to verify it.

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The breaches have triggered several state investigations and created a major embarrassment for UCLA. The hospital could face serious sanctions from the California Department of Public Health, and Jackson could face criminal charges for allegedly violating a federal privacy law.

Although such charges are uncommon, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have launched a preliminary inquiry into the matter, a source in the U.S. attorney’s office said Tuesday.

“We’re certainly interested and we’re looking into it,” said the source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Among the 61 patients whose records Jackson allegedly viewed in 2006 and 2007 were 33 celebrities, politicians and other well-known people, state officials have said.

UCLA’s ability to keep patients’ information private has been at issue since The Times reported last month that the university was trying to fire 13 workers and was disciplining 12 others for peeking into the records of pop star Britney Spears, who was hospitalized in its neuropsychiatric unit in January.

Lawyers for Fawcett contend that UCLA employees might have leaked or sold information on the recurrence of the actress’ cancer last May to the tabloids, including the National Enquirer. The Enquirer published several sensational stories soon after her visits to the medical center, the lawyers said, including a piece titled “Farrah’s Cancer Is Back!” before Fawcett was able to tell her son about it.

Through UCLA, the lawyers asked for a meeting with Jackson last year, but she declined. (Fawcett’s lawyers did not know Jackson’s name at the time but wrote to her as “Jane Doe.”)

In the interview with The Times, Jackson would not say whether she had ever spoken to the Enquirer. “I’m not going to answer that,” she said. “I’m scared to answer that. . . . I know I’m not the leak. I don’t believe I’m the leak.”

She dismissed questions about whether she had a financial motive to sell information. According to court records, Jackson and her husband, Victor, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, listing assets of less than $23,000 and liabilities of $37,300. But she said, “that was a long, long, long time ago.” In the 2001 filing, she listed her job at UCLA; her husband said he was disabled.

Fawcett’s lawyer said UCLA officials notified him of Jackson’s name Monday evening after The Times made inquiries to the medical center about employees named Jackson.

“We had been asking for the name for nine months and they refused to give it to us and last night at 6 p.m. they gave it to us,” lawyer Kim Swartz said.

“It’s not over for us,” he said. “We’re continuing to closely monitor the results of these investigations and see what our options are.”

As an administrative specialist, for which she drew a salary of $46,046 in fiscal year 2006, Jackson provided “support to the Department of Nursing Administration, unit managers, clinical nurse specialists and staff,” Moster wrote in an e-mail. She also developed internal systems to streamline communications and worked on programs, events and special projects.

Dr. David Feinberg, chief executive of the UCLA Hospital System, said Sunday that UCLA had reviewed the woman’s UCLA phone records and e-mails and found no evidence that she leaked information outside the hospital. Without a subpoena or an employee’s cooperation, however, UCLA would be unable to access an employee’s personal telephone logs or banking records.

At the time, Feinberg said, the Westwood hospital did not believe that it was required to alert the patients whose records were viewed or to notify state health department or law enforcement authorities. Upon reconsideration, Moster said Tuesday, UCLA now plans to notify all of the affected patients by phone and mail that their records had been viewed improperly.

Feinberg has called Jackson, whom he did not identify, a “rogue” employee.

Jackson said she did not have insidious motives. “It was more of a curiosity,” she said. “It was just me being nosy. If you see something or something happened the night before, you go in and you’re like, ‘Maybe they were here.’ You just kind of look. It wasn’t to do anything to anybody. I don’t even remember half the stuff I even looked at. There was no intent to do anything bad.”

Asked why she looked at more than two dozen records of non-famous patients, she said, “it may have been me ordering some files for somebody.”

In an e-mail sent to all UCLA health employees Monday, Feinberg and Dr. Thomas Sibert, president of UCLA Faculty Practice Group, wrote that officials now “can and do initiate electronic audits to track record access. . . .”

“Stories like the recent ones are clear reminders that we are all responsible to the commitment that we make to our patients every day -- the delivery of strong, compassionate care and protection of privacy.”

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

Times staff writer Scott Glover and researcher John Tyrrell contributed to this report.


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