NY: Personal Files From Erie County Social Services Found Discarded
The Erie County Comptroller’s office says an audit has found copies of residents confidential personal information left in open areas that are accessible to the public.
Some the information in the records includes birth certificates, social security cards, and medical records.
The comptroller says the records were found during an ongoing audit of the Department of Social Services, which began after tips from whistle-blowers who said the department was re-certifying people seeking benefits without checking to see if that person was qualified.
Auditors were denied a chance to see the records, but found them in the open where anyone could find the sensitive information
Read more on WGRZ.
So under the revised HITECH regulations, does the county need to report this to HHS and to notify individuals? They likely have no information as to whether anyone actually accessed the records or stole anything, so I think they need to, but it will be interesting to see how they respond to this audit in terms of HIPAA.
Update: In an editorial on the matter and the Erie County Executive’s statement criticizing the Comptroller for not notifying the county of the finding before disclosing it publicly,, the Buffalo News editors write, in part:
An audit by County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw revealed that department employees have carelessly disposed of old records, potentially threatening the privacy of hundreds of the department’s clients. Among the documents were copies of birth certificates, personal medical records, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, tax returns, inmate records, payroll information, court records and passports. Could the information be any more sensitive?
The problem is that some workers had been discarding these documents in the totes meant for recycling instead of securing them in the locked totes meant for documents that will be shredded.
County officials say they have fixed the problem and questioned Mychajliw’s motives for making the matter public, which only goes to show that it is possible to do the right thing and still miss the point. No doubt the comptroller has an affinity for publicity, but he is the public’s watchdog. It is his job to report to the public, which directly elects him. He would be criticized, and rightly, if he didn’t report the findings.
Read more on Buffalo News.