March, 2012

March 12th, 2012

County trashes confidential information

Violating privacy law, health department discards personal information of people applying for benefits in public trash bin

Gila County Health Department staff dumped confidential personal information that included copies of drivers’ licenses and birth certificates into a public recycling bin found by two Payson residents on Feb. 29.
“The fact this is happening is inexcusable,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.

The health department reported in a press release this week that an employee threw two bankers-style boxes containing 12 files of internal documentation into a recycle container used by other businesses in Payson.

The employee has been reprimanded and retrained, said county officials.

County officials have not confirmed how many individual’s records were compromised, but the files reportedly included hundreds of pages.

County officials said they’ve launched an investigation but have not yet revealed how the confidential information ended up in boxes of recycling material an employee routinely dumped in the trash. County officials have denied reports that confidential records were discarded at least twice.

Martin insisted the county would change its procedures.

“In this day and age, nobody should have to worry about his or her identification getting out,” she said.

The incident violated federal law protecting the confidentiality of health care records, acknowledged Health Director Michael O’Driscoll.

Since the incident was reported, county officials have moved the recycling bin to a secure location to examine each piece of paper to guarantee all records are found, said Martin.

O’Driscoll said the files were mixed in with outdated pamphlets and material from the federal WIC (Women, Children and Infant) program.

WIC provides grants to states for food, health care and nutrition education to low-income mothers of children under the age of 5. The states then have county health departments administer the program.

O’Driscoll said the health department is investigating exactly how the records found their way into the boxes of recyclable material without being shredded first.

“We moved immediately to put systems in place to stop distribution of files,” said O’Driscoll.

Because the files had to do with personal medical information, they are subject to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) security regulations and so should have been disposed of as required by federal law.

In its press release the health department wrote, “Gila County Health Department maintains extremely strict and cautionary protocols for confidential information, which includes step-by-step measures for its storage, management, and destruction.”

O’Driscoll said each year health department employees go through training on how to properly dispose of confidential paperwork. Files are shredded and discarded after five years, only if they include inactivated clients.

Chamber of Commerce manager John Stanton, who shares the recycling bin with the county office, saw a young mother with a baby, contacted by a Phoenix television station through her information found in the bin, being interviewed.

The incident came to light after people who found the discarded records and called Channel 15. Channel 15 reported that Payson residents Lynda Perkins and her daughter-in-law discovered the discarded documents outside the county health department office located next to the courthouse as they searched for coupons. The Payson women called the Phoenix TV station.

On camera, WIC office employee Sherry Miller admitted to placing the files in the box.

However, O’Driscoll would not confirm the identity of the employee who discarded the records and added he bore the ultimate responsibility as director of the department.

Martin expressed remorse, “I can’t believe we did it,” she said, “I can only explain it as somebody unconsciously throwing it in a box. The weak link is in the strangest places.”

March 2nd, 2012

How Did Hundreds of Medical Records End Up On Road?

Montgomery County, N.C. – Hundreds of documents filled with peoples’ social security numbers and dates of birth somehow ended up in trash bags on the side of the road in Montgomery County.

The documents came from a drug-testing company called Professional Medical Resources, Inc. News 2 called the company Thursday, but no one returned our calls.

Friday, News 2 called the Attorney General’s office and now its staff members are investigating this situation as well.

News 2 also drove to 1720 North Howard Mill Road in Robbins. That’s the address listed for Professional Medical Resources, Inc. We found ahouse, surrounded by trees. No one appeared to be home and there was no indication this address housed a business.

News 2 then discovered the Secretary of State lists Kathleen Martindale as the company’s president. The Secretary of State also indicates Martindale did not file the proper paperwork with the state for six years, and received a warning letter.

The “Notice of Dissolution” letter says if she didn’t file the reports within sixty days, her company would be dissolved. However, Martindale responded to the notice in time to avoid that fate.

News 2 Reporter Mark Geary also called Martindale again and left several messages. She did not call back.

The Attorney General’s office told News 2 the Identity Theft Protection Act and HIPPA requires companies to destroy your personal information.

You may remember in 2010, a Greensboro urgent care center called “Prompt Med” had to pay a $50,000 fine after a homeless man tipped off News 2 that hundreds of medical files with patient’s personal information was in a dumpster.

This is only the beginning of our Two Wants to Know Investigation. We’re going to keep asking questions until we figure out how this happened.