IL: 4,200 Medical Records Stored Inside Slowed Fire Cleanup

After 10 years or so of covering breaches and data loss,  it takes a bit to shock me, but this news story by John H. Croessman had my eyebrows involuntarily elevating:

When members of the Pinckneyville City Council hammered physician Tim Mathis on television interviews recently about why it has taken so long to clean up the debris from the April fire that destroyed the Kunz Opera House, owner Mathis responds: “All you had to do was ask. Nobody did.”

The Du Quoin Evening Call this week asked and Dr. Mathis–who provides ER coverage at hospitals in Metropolis and Staunton–was quick to tell us.

“Over 4200 medical records of my former patients that were stored in 14 boxes up against the front windows just west of the center column were spread out by a track hoe after the fire,” he said. Dr. Mathis said he couldn’t disclose that the records were there nor talk about why the cleanup took so long until the records were all accounted for. “I found some laying out in the street in the rain when I got there the morning after the fire. Later as I dug through the rubble and remains of the building I found they had been spread from the East wall to the West wall and as far back as 40 feet into what was left of the building, drenched in water and buried in 3-4 feet of brick, charred wood, twisted conduit and wiring and family heirlooms, books, important papers, diplomas, records, furniture, clothing and things we had saved from our kids school years and baby stuff.”

Okay, I’m likely missing some important information here, but why were boxes of medical records in the Kunz Opera House? And how can having boxes of records near windows be physically secure?


“If you were one of those who trusted me with your own or your family members names, birth dates, social security numbers and other information that could have been used for identity theft, in addition to highly personal medical and psychiatric information that could have had potential for creating problems – family, employment or personal – you can rest assured that I personally saw to it that every record I found was buried 8-10 feet under the ground on a friend’s farm as they were too wet to burn and too wet and filled with sand and other debris to shred.”

Read more on DuQuoin Evening Call.

I give Dr. Mathis tremendous credit for his diligent efforts to protect patient privacy. This sounds like a nightmare situation in terms of data loss and there is no indication as to whether those records had been backed up in electronic format before being stored in boxes.

But I’d still like to know what so many boxes of records were doing in that building. Maybe another news report from that area will eventually clarify that for me.


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  1. Anonymous - November 3, 2011

    A quick Google search for him indicates he used to be a family physician in private practice who closed his practice and went to work for the hospital in their ED. Given that he owns the building that burnt down, my guess is that he was storing the records there rather than paying someone else to do so. I can’t get a read on how long ago that was, and even today there are a lot of small pratices that are completely paper-driven, rather than using an EHR system.

    All in all, a situation that leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach, for him and for his former patients.

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