TN: Holston Valley patient info found in Bristol recycling bin; nurse resigns over error

Hank Hayes reports:

Wellmont Health System has sent letters to patients whose protected health information was recently discovered at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Wellmont said in a prepared release issued on Wednesday.

Wellmont said the patients “were likely not” identity theft victims.

Read more on Times News.

Wellmont issued the following statement:

Wellmont Health System has sent letters to patients whose protected health information was recently discovered in a public place in Bristol, assuring them they were likely not an identity theft victim but offering ways they can further safeguard themselves.

The organization is taking this step in response to the March 1 discovery of protected health information in a recycling bin at Steele Creek Park in Bristol. This information contained notes that were created by a nurse who was providing care for patients who received treatment at Holston Valley Medical Center between 1998 and 2007. Notes on 1,726 Holston Valley patients were disposed in the recycling bin.

The notes were not part of any patients’ legal medical record and were never in a public area before they were placed in the recycling bin. Holston Valley and Wellmont did not authorize these notes, their retention or their disposal at Steele Creek, said Nancy Merritt, Wellmont’s chief compliance officer. In fact, she said, Wellmont policies and procedures say such actions are not permissible.

Merritt said the nurse, who was interviewed by the compliance department and faced potential corrective action, has resigned.

“We conducted a thorough investigation and have no evidence any of these patients have experienced identity theft or had their personal information compromised as a result of this nurse’s actions,” Merritt said. “We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause affected patients and will assist them in taking appropriate steps to ensure they are fully safeguarded.”

Wellmont has informed as many of these patients as possible that they are entitled to a free credit report annually from three companies.

The health system has also pursued measures to ensure this type of activity by a co-worker is not repeated. Wellmont is providing additional education to co-workers who have access to patients’ protected health information about their responsibilities to handle these documents properly.

“This is an unfortunate situation, and we want to assure the community this was not an accepted or tolerated practice,” said Bart Hove, Wellmont’s president and CEO. “We take our responsibility to preserve patient information in a secure manner seriously and remain committed as an organization to the privacy of those who entrust us with their care.”

Please contact 877-507-0783 if you have additional questions or wish to discuss this matter in greater detail.

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