HHS names Rodriguez chief health data privacy enforcer

Leon Rodriguez, a former prosecutor and healthcare provider lawyer, has taken the reins as director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees health information privacy. The Health and Human Services Department announced his appointment Sept. 13.

OCR investigates complaints filed by the public and possible violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules and also the breach notification regulation. OCR also helps to protect against discrimination in healthcare and social services.

[See also: HIPAA Security Rule authority moved to Office for Civil Rights.]

Rodriguez most recently served as chief of staff and deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He replaces Georgia Verdugo, who led OCR since 2009.

OCR is “committed to using every vehicle it has to advance and enforce sensible protections for the privacy and security of individuals’ protected health information,” Rodriguez said at a Sept. 12 HHS briefing about consumer use of personal health records and other health IT.

While HIPAA privacy and security rules set standards for safeguarding health information, it is up to providers and health plans and their business partners to build a culture of compliance within their workplace.

“Policies and procedures cannot simply be binders on a shelf. I know from experience as both a prosecutor and a healthcare provider lawyer that this is a reality,” he said.

Trust is critical to building a secure electronic health infrastructure. “Now more than ever consumer confidence in the privacy and security of health information is paramount as we undergo this transformation in the way in which we do the business of healthcare,” he said.

[See also: HHS Consumer Health IT Summit power-charged for progress.]

In her announcement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Rodriguez has a “strong record of integrity, leadership and judgment with his outstanding expertise as a state and federal prosecutor.”

Prior to coming to the federal government, Rodriguez served as the county attorney for Montgomery County, Md., from 2007 to 2010. He also practiced law in the private sector and was a state prosecutor in various jurisdictions, including Pittsburgh, Pa. Rodriguez received his law degree from Boston College.