Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, shared private patient health information with a former legislative aide as part of work the aide performed for Adams’ health care consulting firm, according to emails obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Adams’ former aide, Maureen Hains, said in an interview she was never asked to sign a confidentiality agreement required by federal law of health care workers who are asked to handle private health records.
Emails between Adams and Hains, which The Times-Dispatch obtained from the state under the Freedom of Information Act, show the information was shared via Gmail accounts, at least twice without any encryption or other protection, a potential violation of federal laws aimed at protecting patient privacy. The records included names, birth dates, medical diagnoses and hospice statuses.
Adams’ private work for Richmond-area health care facilities began while she was still employed by a state health agency in a high-ranking role — an arrangement her attorneys say was sanctioned by the agency, but which an attorney familiar with Virginia’s ethics laws says creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In response to an Aug. 21 request from The Times-Dispatch, a spokeswoman for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Maria Reppas, said the department was not in possession of a conflict of interest agreement related to Adams’ work for Integrated Health Consulting. Reppas said the department does have agreements related to other outside work by Adams, but said those are protected by a FOIA exemption.
The emails shed some light into a legal dispute between Adams and her former aide, who accused the lawmaker of hacking into her Gmail account and deleting files related to her work with Adams’ consulting firm. Hains is asking for $550,000 in damages.
Adams is seeking re-election in the 68th House District, which includes parts of the city of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties. She is facing a challenge from Republican Garrison Coward, a former aide to Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st.
As Hains’ lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, winds through the legal process, the case is likely to continue beyond Election Day on Nov. 5. Absentee voting in Virginia began Sept. 20.
Adams has refused to address the details of the lawsuit, “in fairness to the legal process, including to all parties involved,” she said in a statement, in which she “strongly” denied “all claims.”
The delegate’s attorney, Cullen Seltzer, said it’s “not secret that [Hains] provided some limited assistance to Delegate Adams’ private business,” though Adams had not acknowledged that fact in legal filings. The extent of Hains’ work for Adams is among the issues in dispute.
Seltzer added that he is “not aware of any conflict of interest on [Adams’] part, and that the claims contained in the lawsuit will be addressed as the case moves forward.
“While contesting this matter, her attention and efforts are engaged in serving her constituents and the commonwealth,” he said.
Asked whether Adams met federal requirements for the disclosure of patient information, Seltzer did not immediately respond. In an earlier email, he said, “Del. Adams is committed to the privacy of patients’ medical information and has not, and would not, consent to sharing protected health information in a public forum.”
Emails between Hains and Adams obtained by The Times-Dispatch show the two exchanged charts that included patient names, birth dates, medical diagnoses, hospice status and the locations where the patients were examined.
Hains said in an interview and in court filings that she helped Adams with this work by reviewing patient charts and translating diagnoses into codes used by health care professionals.
“I knew this was unusual, but initially, it was supposed to be a one-off kind of thing,” Hains said in a phone interview with The Times-Dispatch that also included her attorney in the case.
One email dated July 23, 2018 — sent from Hains’ campaign email account to a Gmail account belonging to Adams — reads:
“So I’m not sure I’m reading your handwriting correctly on all of this, especially on [a particular patient] — it looks like the first two codes are formatted differently, no letter in the front? Not sure. Let me know if you need something changed!”
The email includes Hains’ email signature and was sent in the early afternoon on a Monday.
Another email from Hains to Adams, dated Aug. 19, 2018 — sent on a Sunday evening — reads, “I sorted them alphabetically and by location.” The email included a chart listing patient information.
Reppas, the behavioral health department spokeswoman, said that the patient health information “and other business documents contained in these emails do not belong to [the agency].”
She added: “The reason these emails became part of our search results is because [Del.] Adams forwarded them from her personal Gmail account to her DBHDS account.”
Reppas confirmed that officials at the Department of Behavioral Health had to view the private patient health information to redact it before fulfilling the Freedom of Information Act request by The Times-Dispatch.
Michael Goodman, a health care lawyer based in Glen Allen who is not involved in the case, told The Times-Dispatch that Hains would have been legally authorized to view the information if she had been employed by Adams’ firm and signed a legally binding agreement designed to protect the information.
Goodman said that under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, employers handling private health information are required to obtain signed “business associate agreements” to share protected information.
“If she was a legitimate employee, she would have to have some agreement in place,” Goodman said. “If I’m an authorized entity sharing private information, I want an assurance I won’t find it on the highway.”
Asked if she was ever presented with any paperwork or agreement that might fit this requirement, Hains said she was not.
“[Adams] never presented me with any paperwork and I never signed anything in that regard,” Hains said.
Goodman said that HIPAA also requires technological protections of patient data, which for many providers often means using encryption, and/or software that tracks who has viewed the information.
“If you wanted to protect the information, you wouldn’t have just attached it. Would it be unusual? No. Would it be a violation of the law? Yes,” Goodman said.
“If I send it to you on your Gmail account, how do I know you’re not sharing it with friends? Anybody you give your password to — your husband, your mother — they now have access.
“That’s where the security fear comes in.”
Goodman said HIPAA violations that are prosecuted often come with fines as high as $50,000 per incident, and usually some form of corrective action. The law also requires that health care providers notify their patients if their records were breached or even just vulnerable.
One of the firms Adams worked with, Laurel Health Care Co., a network of rehabilitation facilities with four locations in Virginia, confirmed Adams did work for some of its contracted physicians at The Laurels of Bon Air and The Laurels of Willow Creek in Chesterfield between July 2018 and January 2019.
Scott Williamson, regional director of operations for Laurel, said in a statement that the company did not contract with Adams directly, and did not believe that security issues related to Adams’ work included their patients.
“To the best of our knowledge, no private information of residents at our facilities was compromised,” Williamson said.
For a four-month period in 2018, Adams worked as a state agency official, a delegate in the General Assembly and the CEO of her consulting firm.
Republicans criticized Adams’ simultaneous work for the state and the General Assembly as “unethical double-dipping,” but despite initial questions about a state constitutional provision that apparently bars the practice, Adams said the Attorney General’s Office determined that “there’s precedent for a state employee being in the legislature.”
It’s unclear whether Adams’ work for the state behavioral health agency while working for her consulting firm meets similar state ethics standards.
Adams’ work through her private consulting firm, Integrated Health Consulting, began in July 2018 — months before her departure from the behavioral health agency. While working for the state, Adams served as the director of the Office of Integrated Health before her departure on Oct. 1, 2018. She received a salary of $117,810 in 2017 and supervised 12 employees.
Reppas, the spokeswoman for the agency, confirmed Adams’ last day. Adams registered Integrated Health Consulting as a limited liability company June 4, 2018, according to the State Corporation Commission. Emails forwarded to Adams’ agency account show Adams interacting with health care facilities, and signing them “Integrated Health Consulting,” in July 2018.
Reppas said, “There are guidelines for state employees who do work outside of their state government jobs. Any special dispensation we possess for Delegate Adams is exempt under FOIA as this information is directly related to personnel.”
Eric Gregory, a local attorney who advises local and regional government agencies on compliance with state law, said the work presents the “appearance and potential for a conflict of interest.”
“It’s conceivable that if somebody had started a consulting agency that covered the same subject matter as their government work, they might create a conflict,” he said. “Certainly it creates an appearance of impropriety. Does it create an actual conflict? Hard to say.”
Adams disclosed her status as CEO of Integrated Health Consulting with state ethics officials in January 2019, in line with state ethics laws, which only require annual filings and don’t require updates throughout the year, according to Stewart Petoe, executive director of the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.
Still, the full picture of Adams’ consulting work and Hains’ role in it remains murky.
While Adams’ legal team widely denies Adams has any financial liability to Hains, they neither admit nor deny that Adams attempted to access or actually accessed Hains’ Facebook and Gmail accounts, or that she deleted information from Hains’ Gmail account.
“Those claims present issues that are not susceptible to resolution at this stage in the proceedings,” a court filing by Adams’ team reads.
No trial date has yet been set. The parties are awaiting a ruling by Judge M. Hannah Lauck on Adams’ motion to dismiss the suit.
VA PrideFest turned Brown’s Island on Saturday into a joyful, rousing festival of diversity and inclusivity.
The family-friendly celebration of the LGBTQ community was a far cry from the first Pride event in Richmond, a gay and lesbian march that was held 40 years ago and by virtue of the times was much more of a protest, said James R. Millner II, president of Virginia Pride, the organization that put on PrideFest.
“But I think in a way the size and scope of this event is in itself a protest of some sort,” Millner said. “Because people come and stand up and they are visible and they want to be counted and they want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to feel a part of the community. I think that’s what this is really about.”
On a sweltering day that felt more like mid-July than late September, the event drew thousands who donned rainbow capes, listened to music, hula-hooped, guzzled beer and lemonade, stood in line for funnel cakes and kettle corn, sought shade from the relentless sun — and enjoyed the company of others unafraid to be themselves.
This was the sixth year PrideFest has been held on Brown’s Island, and Millner said it was “by far the biggest event we’ve ever had.” There were so many vendors, some had to set up off the island, just across Haxall Canal. The event’s corporate sponsors included many of the area’s major employers.
“They are standing up saying, ‘We believe in equality, we believe in fairness, we believe in inclusivity,’ ” Millner said of the corporate sponsors. “It sends a very powerful message.”
Millner said he has attended lots of festivals where people enjoy themselves, “but this has a whole different vibe to it. There’s just this electricity that runs through this crowd here like nothing I’ve ever experienced in Richmond.”
“This is about community,” he said. “This is about saying we belong to each other, and we belong to the Richmond community.”
In Nation & World | Ex-official: White House limited access to memos of other calls | Page B1
A Metro & State
Sunday in VirginiaA11
B Nation & World
TV / History D10
Sunday Business E4
Before a nepotism scandal prompted her firing, Richmond’s chief administrative officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, led Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration through 18 months of negotiations over the $1.5 billion plan to redevelop downtown around a new Coliseum.
On the other side of the table were officials from NH District Corp., the would-be developer for the project with a governing board that includes Cuffee-Glenn’s nephew, Carlos M. Brown, head of Dominion Energy’s legal department.
Stoney knew his top administrator and Brown — secretary of the NH Foundation board — were related, but said in an interview this past week he did not view it as a conflict of interest.
“The agreement that was negotiated by the city and NH District Corp. featured several attorneys, dozens of experts and analysts,” he said. “I think the agreement will stand on its own merit, and I welcome the scrutiny, not only from the City Council, but from the people of this great city.”
The comments came amid fallout over Stoney’s handling of the nepotism scandal that has rocked his administration as he is seeking to shepherd what could be the biggest economic development deal in Richmond history through the City Council review process.
Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter got a city job that paid more than virtually all other employees in a similar position after no competitive search. Stoney said he learned of the hiring after it took place in March, but waited six months for an Inspector General investigation to conclude before taking any action. Once he fired Cuffee-Glenn, who had four other relatives on the city payroll, he appointed her closest deputy, who renewed the daughter’s employment with the city, as her interim replacement.
A clause in the city-issued request for proposals for the arena project restricted city employees from speaking to “agents or representatives” of any developers vying for the project unless first approved by a designated city staffer.
“The city seeks to conduct a transparent, fair and highly competitive RFP process free of conflicts of interest,” the clause states.
That staffer, Matt Welch, said through Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan that he “does not recall being apprised of any communications” that would have violated the clause. Nolan said the mayor was “not aware of any conversations that impacted the terms of the RFP or negotiations.”
In response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch Freedom of Information Act request, Cuffee-Glenn’s former office said it did not have on record any text messages exchanged between her city-issued phone and a cell number for Brown.
It’s unclear whether Cuffee-Glenn and Brown had other communications about the project. Neither returned interview requests for this story, but public records bear out the familial connections and financial ties.
The Times-Dispatch reviewed obituaries, marriage licenses and land records from three localities to establish the relation: Brown’s mother, Beverly, is Cuffee-Glenn’s sister. A relative in Cuffee-Glenn’s native Chesapeake acknowledged the link, but declined to answer specific questions about Brown or Cuffee-Glenn.
Cuffee-Glenn, 59, and Brown, 45, owned a house together in Richmond’s North Side from 2003 to 2007, city property records show.
Cuffee-Glenn granted Brown power of attorney shortly after the purchase, authorizing her nephew to make decisions on her behalf for any property she owned, according to public records. Cuffee-Glenn and her husband later gifted their stake in the house, located at 2926 Hawthorne Ave., to Brown and his wife.
NH District Corp. would not make Brown available for an interview.
“All negotiations on behalf of NH District Corporation and the city occurred through their respective legal representation,” stated Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for the group. “The [NH District Corp.] team remains focused on engaging with the community and City Council about the benefits of the proposal — which we believe stands on its own merits.”
Kelley said Brown is not compensated for his work as the NH Foundation board’s secretary.
An inspector general investigation initiated in April and released earlier this month found that five of Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives got city jobs at departments she oversaw without competitive searches. Other high-ranking administrators that answered to her helped facilitate the hires, investigators found.
Brown is a past president of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a current member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which controls state aid for local transportation projects.
In 2018, NH District Corp. lobbied city leaders to submit for consideration a project it called the backbone of its original plan of development: raising Leigh Street between Third and Eighth streets. As the Richmond District representative on the state board, Brown would have been in a position to advocate for state funding for the project. A package of council-approved proposals left it out, however.
Brown donated $1,000 to Stoney during the 2016 mayoral race, campaign finance records show.
Asked whether he had discussed the project with Brown, Stoney said he had not before ending an interview after seven minutes to fly to New York for the unveiling of a public art installation scheduled a day later.
“Every time I negotiated at the table it was across from [NH District Corp.] leaders like Tom Farrell and Marty Barrington, never with Mr. Brown.”
After ousting a 21-year incumbent in a Republican primary four years ago and cruising into the General Assembly, state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, is seeking a second term in what, on paper, is a conservative district. But conflicts of her own making have hindered some of her Republican support heading into the Nov. 5 election.
How much those conflicts affect her future is up to voters, but Democrats are making a spirited run with a first-time candidate, Amanda Pohl, who has outraised Chase this year and had more money in the bank at the end of August.
“The race is competitive because folks want someone in office who represents our shared community values,” Pohl said in an interview.
Chase is touting her record in her term in the Senate, along with her conservative credentials.
“Because I’ve been willing to take on the good old boy network in Chesterfield, that I have had the courage to take on the power brokers in Richmond, I feel like I’ve been a target,” Chase said in an interview.
“I was the one that was bold enough to carry my firearm on the Senate floor. I mean, I am a firebrand legislator, and I’m not one that’s going to be intimidated or silenced. The people sent me there to be a voice for them, and I’m going to do that job.”
She said her record includes being chief co-sponsor of successful legislation this year that requires Dominion Energy to excavate toxic coal ash from ponds across the state, including two in Chesterfield County. Among other successful pieces of legislation, she touts her bill signed this year by Gov. Ralph Northam that requires hospitals to notify patients in writing about their right to request billing estimates.
Chase previously introduced legislation to ban out-of-state campaign contributions — a bill her fellow senators rejected in committee — backs term limits for state lawmakers, and helped found the Transparency Caucus, which successfully pushed for legislative committee hearings to be broadcast live and archived online for public viewing.
Add to that, she said, her top-level scores from the National Federation of Independent Business, the socially conservative Family Foundation, the NRA and the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.
“I have a proven record that I can run on. I’ve been an effective legislator,” Chase said.
But distracting from her record are a series of dramas this year:
Chase used the Capitol Police for transportation so frequently during this year’s General Assembly session that its chief asked the House and Senate clerks to remind lawmakers that police were not available to transport them to restaurants or social functions. Chase said no one had ever told her the rules.
In April, a Capitol Police report said Chase cursed at a female African American police officer after Chase tried to park in a secured area. Chase said the officer falsified the report, prompting her fellow Republican senators to write to the Capitol Police chief expressing their support for “every one of your officers.” Chase denied cursing at the officer but later admitted she did use the F-word.
As recently as Wednesday, Chase continued litigating the issue on her Facebook page, saying the officer “neglected her responsibility to ensure my safety as a member of the General Assembly.”
Chase publicly feuded with a campaign vendor a week ago after a Facebook ad with the senator holding a gun said: “I’m not afraid to shoot down gun groups.” Chase said she never approved the wording, recorded a call with a vendor employee who agreed, and demanded an apology. But the vendor’s president refused, saying Chase had approved the language.
Chase’s incident with the Capitol Police officer caused problems with fellow Republican Karl Leonard, a former Chesterfield police major who has been county sheriff since 2014.
Leonard endorsed Chase in 2015, when she easily beat Democrat Wayne Powell, saying then “she stands for all the values we hold dear to our heart.”
This year, he made clear he would not endorse her and he has said Chase implied she could hinder his re-election bid.
Chase brought up Leonard on Wednesday in a Facebook post, saying Leonard “is not willing to listen to both sides, which is concerning to me because good law enforcement should listen to both sides of a story before making a judgment.”
And she opened up a fight with Leonard on Thursday when she posted on Facebook that he supported so-called “sanctuary cities.” Leonard responded by saying Chase’s allegation was a lie, and said she was trying to distract from her own issues.
“If there was ever a time where we need to be unified and reflect the values of our party, this is the time to do so,” Leonard said in an interview.
One of Chase’s conservative colleagues in the Senate rushed to Leonard’s defense on Friday, calling him one of the best sheriffs in Virginia and saying Leonard cooperates fully with federal law enforcement on immigration matters.
“I will not allow anyone, no matter who they are, to insinuate otherwise,” Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, wrote on Facebook. “I fully support him.”
Pohl said that as she sought her party’s nomination during the Democratic primary, she declined to attack Chase for her behavior but focused on the senator’s positions on issues, including Chase’s opposition to measures to reduce gun violence.
Pohl has said she wants to build on the successes of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Virginia this year, wants Virginia to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment, and wants protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ community in state law. She also supports allowing absentee voting for any reason and supports same-day voter registration, which allows someone to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
Pohl said voters, including Republicans, think the senator’s actions represent “politics as usual.”
“Even if she says she’s not a politician, she’s acting like a politician,” Pohl said. “People’s actions speak louder than words.”
All 40 Senate seats and 100 House seats are up for election Nov. 5, and control of the legislature is in the balance.
The 11th District includes parts of Chesterfield, plus Amelia County and the city of Colonial Heights.
In the 2017 election, in which an anti-Trump wave swept Northam into office and helped Democrats flip 15 seats in the House of Delegates, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie still easily won in the 11th Senate District by nearly 8 percentage points, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Republican Donald Trump carried the district by 11 percentage points in the 2016 presidential race. In 2018, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., swamped the self-described “vicious and ruthless” Republican nominee, Corey Stewart, by 16 percentage points statewide, but in the 11th District, Kaine edged him by less than 1 percentage point.
Veteran political analyst Bob Holsworth said Chase hasn’t endeared herself with some of the Republican establishment in Chesterfield.
“Over time, the local government response to her in Chesterfield has not been very positive,” Holsworth said.
But he said he’s not sure any Republicans in the district, which is both rural and suburban, are ready to support Pohl, who has worked as an organizer for liberal Democratic causes.
Judy Stoneman, a 30-year GOP activist in Chesterfield, said Chase is accessible to the public and is a refreshing lawmaker in a county that has a good old boy system. That includes a sheriff’s office that has traditionally had control of county politics, she said.
“She was such a refreshing change,” Stoneman said of Chase. “Her morals, her character, her beliefs.”
Holsworth said Chase’s refusal to apologize for missteps, especially her confrontation with a Capitol Police officer, reflect a similarity with Trump.
“It’s the Trumpian thing — you don’t back down,” he said.
Four years ago, after Chase upset Sen. Stephen H. Martin in the GOP primary, she received a $1,000 donation from then-Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, who wasn’t seeking re-election.
Watkins, who represented parts of Chesterfield in the House and Senate for three decades, has given $3,250 to GOP candidates this year, including $200 to Sheriff Leonard for his re-election bid. But none to Chase.
“She’s damaging the [Chesterfield Republican] committee by her actions,” Watkins said. “She’s not going after her opponent. She’s going after the people in the party. I don’t know why, for the life of me.”
Chase has an explanation.
“I have spoken truth to power, and I don’t back down. And when I feel like I’m in the right, I’m going to push through,” she said. “... I was sent to Richmond to clean things up, and when you’re cleaning things up, not everybody likes it. But I have had the guts to do it.”
Pohl has shown that she’s able to raise money.
She raised about $50,000 more than Chase in the last reporting period, covering July and August, and had about $26,000 more in hand on Aug. 31. Chase has raised more money overall; almost half of the $356,189 in contributions came between Jan. 1, 2016, just after her last campaign, and the end of last year.
In contrast, Pohl raised $251,677 this year, including 1,440 donations of less than $100 each. Those small donations added up to $45,625, compared with 242 small donations totaling $11,641 for Chase. The challenger also has received about $55,000 more in large donations (of $100 or more) than the incumbent, and about $63,000 more in total contributions this year.
Her largest contribution, $35,000, came from Charlottesville donor Sonjia Smith. Smith and her husband, Michael Bills, give money to Democratic candidates and are among the biggest political donors in Virginia, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Still, Holsworth said Pohl’s campaign isn’t getting the kind of financial support from big Democratic donors that some other Democrats have received, including Larry Barnett, who’s making a second bid to unseat Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, in a House district that overlaps part of the 11th Senate District.
“The Democrats have yet to come into that [Senate] race like they have in others,” Holsworth said.