Maine VA hospital launches investigation after patient records dumped unshredded into Dumpster

Posted May 07, 2012, at 6:04 p.m.
Last modified May 07, 2012, at 7:29 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Patient records were dumped unshredded into a Dumpster last month at the Maine VA Medical Center but a spokesman said the documents never left the campus grounds and that no personal identifying information was disclosed.

A bag containing a number of documents from the prosthetics section of the medical center was discovered in a trash bin on the afternoon of April 11 when a veterans administration employee was throwing garbage into the bin, according to spokesman James Doherty.

Doherty issued a statement Monday afternoon on behalf of the medical center in response to an inquiry on the matter that had been brought to the attention of the Bangor Daily News.

The employee brought the papers to his supervisor, who notified the privacy officer at the medical center. The privacy officer then collected the documents.

To ensure that no other sensitive material was improperly disposed, the decision was made to thoroughly search the trash bin and the Veterans Administration garbage truck, Doherty said. The garbage truck had not left the Togus campus, the spokesman said. The truck was locked and secured in a locked Veterans Administration building overnight.

The privacy officer also immediately notified the VA central office.

Early the next morning, the VA privacy officer, two VA information security officers and VA environmental staff went with the garbage truck to the transfer station to thoroughly search the entire contents of the garbage truck. Doherty said the reason for conducting the search at the transfer station was that there was sufficient space there to spread out the contents and then to more easily dispose of the remaining trash.

Each bag of trash was carefully inspected and all sensitive paper documents were brought back to Togus. The documents never were out of VA possession, Doherty stated.

On April 13, the privacy officer was notified by the VA National Security Operations Center to close out the case after concluding that no personally identifiable information had been disclosed.

All the documents that had been gathered were shredded.

The privacy officer said the staff members involved were counseled, additional training was provided and follow-up monitoring was done to prevent further incidents, Doherty stated.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, a ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued a statement Monday afternoon on the incident.

“Every veteran who accesses healthcare through the VA deserves to know that their privacy is being properly protected, and I am troubled to hear about this lapse. I will continue to follow this case and, if necessary, take the steps needed to provide answers for Maine veterans,” Michaud stated.

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