Fairhope dentist violated patient privacy during failed bid for state senate, feds say

A dentist in south Alabama violated patient privacy in 2017 when he ran for state office and shared the names of more than 5,000 patients with a campaign manager and a marketing company.

Dr. David Northcutt of Fairhope owns and operates Northcutt Dental, which on March 8 agreed to pay $62,500 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights to settle the violations. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) created standards in 1996 to protect private data by preventing the disclosure of certain health and personal information without patient consent.

In 2018, Northcutt ran to replace Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, but lost a heated GOP runoff to Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott. A subsequent investigation by the Office of Civil Rights found that Northcutt impermissibly shared the names, addresses and email addresses of patients during his campaign.

The investigation found Northcutt gave a spreadsheet of 3,657 patient names and addresses to a campaign manager in July 2017 and email addresses for 5,385 individuals to a marketing company called Solutionreach. The campaign also sent correspondence to those individuals addressing them as valued patients, according to a resolution agreement.

The agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services is not an admission of liability by Northcutt Dental. Representatives of the company did not comment for this story.

Northcutt Dental’s case was one of more than two dozen undertaken as part of an initiative to enforce rules about patient privacy and access to records, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Between the rising pace of breaches of unsecured protected health information and continued cyber security threats impacting the health care industry, it is critical that covered entities take their HIPAA compliance responsibilities seriously,” said Lisa J. Pino, director of the Office of Civil Rights. “OCR will continue our steadfast commitment to protect individuals’ health information privacy and security through enforcement, and we will pursue civil money penalties for violations that are not addressed.”

The 2018 GOP primary in Alabama Senate District 32 was closely contested and filled with negative radio ads and fliers against both candidates.

The Elliott campaign brought up two Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama cases in 2004 and 2007 against Northcutt. At one point, Northcutt lost his license for a violation of his controlled substances certificate. The dentist said he self-reported the problem and fixed it, restoring his ability to practice. Dental board records show that Northcutt has an active license to practice dentistry and prescribe controlled substances.

The Northcutt campaign released ads about Elliott’s 2016 arrest for DUI. Elliott owned up to the offense during the race. Elliot defeated Northcutt by a small margin in the runoff and went on to win the general election against Democrat Jason Fisher.

Northcutt Dental has several locations in south Alabama. In addition to the payment, the company also created a corrective action plan to address the protection of patient privacy.