Jocelyn Samuels to head HHS Office for Civil Rights

Jocelyn Samuels has been named the next director of the Office for Civil Rights, the unit within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that enforces HIPAA compliance, an OCR spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday in an email to FierceHealthIT.

Samuels (pictured) replaces Leon Rodriguez, who was confirmed as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security. He had held the top OCR post since 2011.

The OCR is expected to ramp up HIPAA audits this fall, though with a narrower focus, and an OCR attorney has warned that the whopping fines of the past year will "pale in comparison" to those coming in the next 12 months.

Samuels comes from the Department of Justice, where she is the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

Former OCR senior privacy and security adviser David Holtzman, considered a prime candidate to replace Rodriguez, left in November. Another potential candidate, Susan McAndrew, OCR's deputy director for health information privacy and security, who had worked on the HIPAA Privacy Rule for HHS since May 2000, has retired.

Massive change is coming to HHS. In January, Karen DeSalvo took over as National Coordinator for Health IT. Sylvia Mathews Burwell was named HHS secretary in early June.

A rash of HHS executives are leaving, including Mike Hash, director of Office of Health Reform; Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight; CMS principal deputy administrator Jonathan Blum; Lygeia Ricciardi, director of the Office of Consumer eHealth at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT; and Joy Pritts, ONC's first chief privacy officer.

In late May, the agency revealed plans to reorganize, cutting the number of offices within the agency from 17 to 10.