A UCLA Medical Center worker who sneaked into the confidential medical records of '70s TV icon Farrah Fawcett last year also improperly...

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LOS ANGELES — A UCLA Medical Center worker who sneaked into the confidential medical records of ’70s TV icon Farrah Fawcett last year also improperly viewed the electronic files of 32 other celebrities, politicians and high-profile patients, including California first lady Maria Shriver, according to hospital and state officials.

The breaches expose the University of California, Los Angeles, to state sanctions and amount to a major embarrassment for one of the nation’s pre-eminent medical centers. The UCLA employee allegedly looked up information on noncelebrity patients as well, accessing 61 patients’ records without permission in 2006 and 2007, state and hospital officials said.

“We are very concerned by what appears to be a pattern of repeated violations,” said Kim Belshe, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency. “It’s not a question of will we take action; it’s determining what level of action to take.”

UCLA said it learned about the widespread breaches last May and terminated the employee the same month.

The head of the UCLA Hospital System, Dr. David Feinberg, apologized for the breaches and said the woman behind them had been a “rogue” employee.

Fawcett is battling cancer. Her attorney, Kim Swartz, said last week that after an employee at the hospital accessed Fawcett’s medical records, details about her treatment showed up in The National Enquirer.

After being informed last week that his wife’s medical records had been accessed, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying that “a breach of any patient’s medical records is outrageous.”

The privacy of medical records is protected under state and federal laws, which carry such penalties as prison terms, fines or both for inappropriately accessing or selling such information.

UCLA would not identify those whose privacy was breached, citing patient confidentiality rules.

State regulators began investigating last month after the Los Angeles Times reported the hospital was firing 13 workers and disciplining 12 others for snooping in pop star Britney Spears’ records during her January stay in UCLA’s neuropsychiatric unit. At the time, UCLA told the newspaper — and state regulators — that the Spears breach was an isolated event.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.