Samaritan investigates after medical records found in trash

2013-07-20T09:00:00Z 2013-11-01T11:26:51Z Samaritan investigates after medical records found in trashBy CANDA FUQUA, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times

Samaritan Health Services is performing an internal investigation into a possible privacy breach after a woman on Tuesday found a stack of unshredded medical documents in an outside trash can behind medical offices on Samaritan Drive.

“We take patient privacy very seriously, and it’s currently under investigation to fully evaluate the situation,” Samaritan spokeswoman Janelle Iverson said Friday.

Janet Wood, who travels to Corvallis from Newport for medical care, opened the trash can to throw away tissue when she made the discovery.

“I didn’t have my glasses on, but I grabbed a stack of papers off the top and sifted through and saw a couple things in bold print — one said ‘pregnancy results,’ one said ‘diagnosis,’” she said. “I was so shook up, thinking about if something like that happened to me ... there were written prescriptions in there, signed in ink, for narcotics — lots of them.”

The documents, according to Capt. Dave Henslee of the Corvallis Police Department, bore the address of Samaritan Family Medicine Resident Clinic. The responding officer witnessed the clinic’s employees recover several hundred documents from the receptacle, Henslee said. Because Wood told the officer the paperwork was confidential in nature, he didn’t look at them and police did nothing further because no crime had been committed, he said.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 sets privacy standards for patients’ medical information. If a breach of privacy did occur, the clinic could be subject to civil lawsuit or an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, which has the authority to impose penalties.

The paperwork would have had to have contained individually identifiable health information — like medical documents with patients’ names — to have been considered a breach, and Wood didn’t look closely enough to see if that kind of information was present.

Wood said there was more than just one stack of papers in the garbage.

“They started taking documents out in their hands,” she said. “Then they realized that the garbage can was all the way full of them, so they took the entire garbage can.”

Someone from Samaritan Health Services contacted Wood after the incident.

“She called me about an hour later and said that they were investigating it but they believed that it was the cleaning person that mistakenly took it out to the garbage,” Wood recalled.

Iverson would not provide details about the case or of Samaritan’s protocols in disposing of confidential medical documents.

“Our staff is regularly trained on our practices to protect patient information,” she said. “There are multiple protocols in place for confidential information, and that’s really all I can say because it’s currently under investigation.”

Wood believes that the case is being taken seriously.

“I don’t go to that particular clinic, but the Samaritan doctors I do go to are truly amazing, and I totally trust in their service and professionalism,” she said. “I believe they’ll get to the bottom of this; I really do. Hopefully that was the only time that it happened.”

Reporter ​Canda Fuqua can be reached at 541-758-9548 or canda.fuqua@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. Biff Bifferman
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    Biff Bifferman - April 25, 2014 3:05 pm
    The woman who called the police might not have been the first one to see those records. For all anyone knows, the first hundred could have been removed before the police were called. How do we know this was the first and only instance? Why were these records all together? Were they related to one department? Who handles the shredding, SamHealth or a contractor? Were they originals or copies? Why were they unsecured at all? Why would housekeeping have access to any records? Why would a medical facility shred records?
    Just remember, any time a General screws up, a Private goes to jail.
  2. Sensical
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    Sensical - July 25, 2013 2:19 pm
    Doesn't sound like they were bagged at all.

    "a woman on Tuesday found a stack of unshredded medical documents in an outside trash can behind medical offices" ... "I grabbed a stack of papers off the top and sifted through and saw a couple things in bold print"

    If all these confidential papers were bagged it is unlikely she would have even noticed. Notice also that “They started taking documents out in their hands,” she said. “Then they realized that the garbage can was all the way full of them, so they took the entire garbage can.”

    Mistake or not, the person responsible should be fired.
  3. MandoMadMan
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    MandoMadMan - July 22, 2013 9:08 am
    Confidential papers go in the confidential bags. Trash goes in the trash bags. Confidential papers are supposed to be shredded.

    One of two things could of happened.

    Somebody in housekeeping - the people responsible for trash pickup - put the confidential papers out with the trash. (this shouldn't happen because the bags are marked differently)

    Or, somebody in the office accidently put confidential papers in a bag marked trash and it accidently ended up being treated as such instead as confidential.

    There is no way was this done deliberately. Sam Health employees are instructed constantly to the point of paranoia to maintain the confidentially of medical records.

    Soon medical records will be digital with almost no paper involved. This was just a one off goof up.
  4. 23Harley
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    23Harley - July 21, 2013 7:10 pm
    "I thought those were the applications for the new rentals up by OSU?"
  5. Snert
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    Snert - July 20, 2013 9:16 pm
    You folks are paranoid. I've worked at Samaritan for over 10 years, and there's no big conspiracy here. Confidential papers go into separate bins, which are handled in an entirely separate manner from regular trash and recycling. Someone screwed up, and yes, it probably was the housekeeping staff.
  6. barfly
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    barfly - July 20, 2013 3:14 pm
    Blame it on the cleaning lady!!! This is as far as this goes the public will hear no more.
    If you think your medical records are secure..think again
  7. long memory
    Report Abuse
    long memory - July 20, 2013 11:05 am
    Caught red-handed!

    If I don't start hearing about authorities digging into Samaritan's practices, I'm going to be really upset.
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