More details emerge on The MENTOR Network breach
On March 21, National Mentor Healthcare, doing business as Georgia MENTOR, announced that they were notifying patients of a data breach. A disk with protected health information mailed to them by a software provider was lost in the mail, they explained. They had reportedly discovered the loss on December 21. They did not disclose when the disk had been mailed, they did not explain why the unnamed software provider had actual patient data, and there was no explanation as to why the software provider had mailed protected health information (PHI) on a disk without any encryption.
It was a somewhat eyebrow-raising report to read in 2018.
At around the same time, CareMeridian in California issued an almost identical press release, also reported on this site.
DataBreaches.net reached out to The MENTOR Network to get some clarification about the incident.
Instead of getting actual answers, however, this blogger received a somewhat surprising response from Dwight Robson, their PR person. Robson indicated that they would not be answering my questions because – wait for it: they did not view me as a credible blogger. That’s the kind of response that makes me wonder what they have to hide.
So what were the questions that The MENTOR Network refused to answer, you wonder? Here are just two of the three questions I posed to them, for starters:
1. Was this one disk sent by the software provider that had documents for a number of covered entities like CareMeridian and Georgia MENTOR, or were there separate disks to each entity and multiple disks lost in the mail?
2. Who was the software provider and why did they even have PHI on real patients?
They refused to answer those simple questions. And as you can imagine, I would have had follow-ups.
What I did not know at the time was that CareMeridian had already submitted a template notification letter to the California Attorney General’s Office. That letter, dated March 20, answered some of the questions I had, although it still leaves some questions unanswered. From their template notification letter:
On or around December 23, 2017, CareMeridian discovered that an unencrypted disk sent to them by their third-party software provider (Bullpen Financial, Inc.) containing documents that included sensitive information appeared to have been lost in the mail. An investigation was immediately launched that included the retention of a forensics expert, to determine the nature and scope of this incident, the types of information involved and the individuals who may be affected. It was determined on January 20, 2018 that protected personal information was contained on the disk. There was information related to various entities such as CareMeridian that the third-party was auditing, so further internal investigation was required to determine individual addresses and the entity with which the impacted individuals had a relationship. This research was finalized March 12, 2018.
The letter is signed by Bruce Nardello of National Mentor Holdings, and has fields for entities to input the name of their entity, suggesting that the letter may have been drafted for them to use and there are likely other MENTOR partners affected that we have yet to find out about in addition to the CareMeridian and Georgia MENTOR partners.
Note that the notification letter does not indicate whether Bullpen Financial Inc. had any Business Associate Agreement in place with The MENTOR network. In other parts of the letter, Nardello indicates that they have security measures in place and had terminated business with Bullpen Financial.
But that still leaves this allegedly not credible blogger with some questions:
- Becker’s Hospital Review was told that these were mostly financial documents related to “revenue testing.” The notification letter to patients talks about “auditing.” What was the provider actually doing and was real patient data actually necessary for that function? If so, did it have to be identifiable patient data?
- Why weren’t the data transmitted electronically and securely? Why were they using mail? And why was there no encryption? Had transmission of data been covered in any contract between MENTOR Network and this software provider?
- What other MENTOR partners, if any, were affected by this incident?
- How many patients, total, across all MENTOR partners, are being notified of this incident?
- If data for multiple MENTOR units (partners) were all on one disk and there was no encryption, were various MENTOR units able to access patient data from other MENTOR units? And if so, should they have been able to?
- When was the disk actually mailed? It was discovered missing on December 21, but was it mailed days earlier or weeks earlier, or months….?
Maybe someone who’s “credible” will ask The MENTOR Network those questions.