Ca: Breach of privacy penalties raises questions for commissioner

A breach that was first disclosed last week did not affect a huge number of people but has generated a lot of criticism about the disclosure process and how the employee involved in the breach was handled.  Norm Park reports on the frustration that the public is not provided more information about the breach and that the employee may have gotten off too lightly:

If the Sun Country employee who breached the pharmaceutical confidentiality code of ethics received only a minor punishment, there is a problematic message being sent out to the public and fellow employees, said Gary Dickson, Saskatchewan’s privacy commissioner, who spoke with The Mercury last Thursday.

It was reported in this newspaper last Wednesday that someone within the ranks of the Sun Country health region’s Weyburn headquarters, breached the confidential pharmaceutical records of 66 clients/patients.

Sun Country has issued letters of apology to the 66 clients, but refused to name the individual who perpetrated the breach and also did not reveal the nature or the extent of the disciplinary action taken other than to confirm that the employee had not been fired.

Marga Cugnet, Sun Country’s interim chief executive officer, said the local health authority was guided by precedents set in other jurisdictions (Regina, Saskatoon) where two similar incidents had occurred. In those cases the offenders were handed 10 day and two week suspensions without pay.

Dickson said he feared that light suspensions and/or minor financial penalties are probably sending the wrong message to the public.

He said the health authorities “have no duty to tell us what happens” when the disciplined employee returns to work.

Dickson said trustees on the boards have advised him that they’ve gone to the Crown Attorney seeking criminal charges, but have received a message that there wouldn’t be much interest in pursuing that route for discipline.

He offered the opinion that the Ministry of Justice doesn’t appear interested in upholding employment termination decisions.

“So if terminations aren’t upheld, what are we left with in terms of punishment?” he asked rhetorically.

“If the penalties are light for breaches of confidentiality, then curiosity often overcomes training,” he said.

Read more in The Mercury.

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