The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its office responsible for enforcing health privacy reorganized so it can sharpen enforcement of cybersecurity and data breaches.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the HHS enforces the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), conducts compliance reviews, investigates complaints, and issues new rules. It also safeguards civil rights and religious freedom related to health.

The office reorganized into three divisions: enforcement, policy, and strategic planning, the HHS announced Monday. The enforcement division will be led by Luis Perez, previously the deputy director for conscience and religious freedom at the OCR.

“Today’s reorganization improves OCR’s ability to effectively respond to complaints, puts OCR in line with its peers’ structure, and moves OCR into the future,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer in the agency’s press release.

Having an enforcement division at headquarters will improve coordination with OCR regional offices and make the process of addressing complaints more efficient, Rainer said.

“This structure will enable OCR staff to leverage its deep expertise and skills to ensure that we are protecting individuals under the range of federal laws that we are tasked with enforcing,” she said.

The OCR saw a 69 percent increase in complaints between 2017 and 2022. Of the complaints, 66 percent involved health information privacy and security, Rainer said.

The OCR renamed its division for health information privacy to the Health Information Privacy, Data, and Cybersecurity Division, “to be more reflective of their work and role in cybersecurity,” the agency said.

The strategic planning division will focus on data collection and analytics, in addition to the traditional role of public outreach.