NM: Northern Navajo Medical Center patient information turns up in NM storage units

AP reports:

A former employee at a northwestern New Mexico hospital walked off with information on nearly 7,500 patients, hospital officials said.

Documents in cardboard boxes turned up in storage units near Farmington. They were taken from the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock last fall without authorization, officials said.

Read more on KOAT. Notification was delayed at the request of law enforcement, it seems.

I was able to locate a copy of the medical center’s notification. Here are the relevant parts:

The Navajo Area Indian Health Service (IHS) recently discovered a privacy breach affecting approximately 7,500 Northern Navajo Medical Center patients in Shiprock, New Mexico. IHS wants to reassure patients that at this time, IHS has no knowledge that any information has been used inappropriately and is providing patients with information on what happened and the steps IHS is taking to protect patients.

What happened?

On Oct. 5, 2015, a community member found cardboard boxes containing health information for approximately 470 patients of the Northern Navajo Medical Center at a public rental storage facility in Waterflow, N.M. The community member contacted the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock and IHS employees immediately retrieved the material and contacted authorities to investigate.

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Investigator discovered that a medical center employee had taken documents used for patient registration without authorization from the medical center and stored them with personal items in the public storage facility. As the investigation proceeded, documents related to an additional 7,000 individuals were also found in the employee’s possession, bringing the total impacted to approximately 7,500 individuals. All documents have been retrieved from the storage units and returned to the medical center. At this time IHS has not received any indication that the information has been accessed or used by any unauthorized individuals.

They don’t say when the data theft occurred, however, or how an employee managed to walk out with so many documents, or why the loss of the documents was never noticed internally. Nor does their notice say that notification was delayed at law enforcement’s request, although the media coverage states that it was.  Their notification/announcement also doesn’t indicate what types of information were involved, but the media coverage reports that it Social Security numbers, birthdates, diagnoses and insurance policy numbers were included.

Perhaps their notification letters to individuals includes all the details missing from their announcement.

IHS takes patient privacy very seriously and in light of this incident, has reviewed and updated policies and procedures and provided additional training to help prevent future incidents. IHS is also providing face-to-face privacy training for all department staff, to include records management responsibilities and requirements on maintaining government documents.

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