CORNER BROOK Allura Jardine has a question for Western Health: “Why are you protecting the privacy of somebody who breached a thousand peoples’ privacy?”
Jardine received a letter Thursday informing her she was one of 1,043 people whose medical records had been inappropriately accessed by a clerk with the health authority. That clerk has since been fired.
Jardine said the mail carrier was still standing there when she looked at the registered letter and nonchalantly remarked, “I bet I know what that is.”
“And then I just opened it and I was floored. I didn’t even know how to react,” she said. “I’m just shocked.”
The letter is generic and states that Western Health believes that a portion of her personal health information was accessed without a valid reason.
It doesn’t say what information, but that it could have included your demographic information, including a person’s age, address and religion; the name of your stated next of kin and your emergency contact person; registration information about visits to our facilities, including the reason for visit; and a list of any diagnostic or surgical procedures that you may have undergone during these visits. It also says the individual was not able to access detailed medical information such as diagnosis, medication, operative reports, lab results or clinicians’ notes. Jardine said she feels completely violated by the incident which has her wondering why her.
Seeking more information, she called Western Health on Friday morning.
That conversation left her even more angry than getting the letter.
Jardine asked what was being done about the breach and was told all that could be said was the person had been terminated.
She also asked for more details about what information had been accessed and was able to get a few more details than what was in the letter.
“So, I know my file was accessed once. I know it was on March 13 of this year and I know exactly what (the person) saw.”
Jardine said what the clerk saw in terms of the visit was not a big deal, but the person also saw her address, phone number, next of kin and birth date.
Jardine then asked who had breached her privacy.
“If they went through my files and know everything about me, I said I at least have the right to know who they are.”
The response from Western Health was “no,” the health authority would not be releasing the identity of the clerk. Jardine was not impressed.
“That’s not fair. You don’t protect the privacy of those who are supposed to protect others’ privacy and breach that.”
Jardine asked to speak with someone who could provide that information and was told that is something that would have to be a part of a legal action.
She plans to seek legal advice on the matter.
“I assume it’s going to be a class-action suit,” Jardine said, adding that if necessary she may pursue it on her own. “They took the right to privacy away from me and I’m not happy about it.”
A lot of questions
Meanwhile, another woman who received one of the registered letters — which cost the health authority $8.86 each to send — said while she had a lot of questions about the breach it wasn’t something that was causing her a lot of concern.
April MacDonald said because the incident was in the media it wasn’t completely shocking when the letter arrived at her door Thursday lunchtime.
In a city of about 20,000 people and with over 1,043 letters going out, she had wondered if she would get one of them.
“I’m not really sure why mine was,” she said. “It’s not really that it happened that seems to be bothering me. It’s that someone out there knows this about me now and that I don’t know who it is. It’s just kind of weird. I have no idea why anybody would want this kind of information.”
For all she knows, the clerk could be someone she knows, or has encountered through her volunteer work or someone who lives on her street.
MacDonald is torn over whether or not she even wants to find out who is responsible.
“I do want to know because there’s that ‘Why? Did I make this person angry?’ But then I don’t want to know because then you’re left with this mob mentality of hatred towards a (person) in a small city. It’s not great.”
Both MacDonald and her partner received letters, and she’s heard from friends who had as well.
Like Jardine’s letter, MacDonald said hers didn’t give a lot of information about what exactly was accessed.
MacDonald said she has friends who work in health care and they have told her the consequences for breaching a patient’s privacy are well known and that doing it once or twice can result in job loss.
That leaves her wondering how this clerk managed to access more than 1,000 files. She’s afraid the number of breaches will send a message to others that the health authority is not really serious about patient privacy.
As for taking further action, MacDonald said what’s done is done.
She also said there is nothing in her files that could damage her credibility in any way and she just hopes it doesn’t happen again.
Officials with Western Health would not do an interview regarding the letters. Instead, the health authority provided this emailed statement: “Western Health would like to once again apologize to each patient who has had their privacy breached. We take our responsibility as the custodians of an individual’s personal health information very seriously and with the utmost care and concern.”
The statement also made mention of a phone number, contained in the letter, that people affected by the breach can call if they have any additional concerns.
“We are happy to follow up with people on an individual basis about any specific concern,” the statement concluded.