Kaiser Permanente stuck in odd struggle with tiny Indio vendor

This news report by Chris Rauber appeared on June 1, but I just became aware of it thanks to a reader:

Giant Kaiser Permanente has found itself locked in a David-and-Goliath-scale struggle with a tiny Southern California record storage vendor over up to 1 million unencrypted Kaiser patient records the vendor claims remain on servers in his house and garage.

The minuscule husband-and-wife company, Surefile Filing Systems, has been engaged in an off-and-on, multi-year dispute with Kaiser over whether the health care giant paid all it owed for Surefile cataloging and storing patient data. It has also reported Kaiser to the California Department of Public Health and other state and federal regulatory agencies for allegedly failing to properly care for and document those electronic records, some of which Surefile’s owner said are being kept in his rented tract home in Indio, near Palm Springs.

The California Department of Public Health confirmed to the San Francisco Business Times late last month that it has received the complaint and is conducting an ongoing investigation.

“Kaiser handed over to me several hundred thousand patient records without a written contract” in 2008 and the following year, said Stephan Dean, who owns Surefile with his wife, Lisa. Electronic versions of those records remain in his possession, Dean told the Business Times, and he wants $80,000 he says Kaiser owes his company before destroying or returning them.

Kaiser, not surprisingly, has a different take. At its request, Dean turned over all of its records in 2010 “that had temporarily been stored by this vendor,” says Diana Halper, a spokeswoman for Kaiser’s Southern California region. She alleges that Dean is “falsely claiming continued possession of medical information as leverage to extract an unearned and unfair settlement from a routine business matter that was properly resolved long ago.”

I haven’t found anything more recent on this dispute. So does Dean have copies of records, or doesn’t he? I hope the state and/or HHS move quickly to investigate and release a statement on this or that Mr. Dean, who was the reader who submitted the link to the news report, contacts me with proof of claims.

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