In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Reps. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, left, and Jonathan Connor, R-Lewiston, sit while waiting for a swearing-in ceremony to begin at the Augusta Civic Center. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Republican lawmaker on Monday called for an independent investigation into how mental health patients’ private information became available on the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ website for more than three months.

The request from Rep. Jonathan Connor, R-Lewiston, came after stories in the Bangor Daily News about the breach, in which at least 20 documents appeared in a state licensing database that contained names, phone numbers and other private information about people receiving mental health treatment, including references to suicidal behavior and complaints about providers.

A department review of the incident found that the documents went online due to “an electronic system error” and that the state did not violate a federal law shielding patient information, according to a spokesperson. The state has taken the documents in question off the website and is contacting the roughly 20 people affected.

Connor wrote a Monday letter to Attorney General Aaron Frey, a Democrat, asking for an investigation that would determine whether state or federal laws were broken. He also said he would file a bill that would force the department to contract with an outside agency to review policies on personally identifiable information.

“This was an appaling violation of trust and we must take swift action to ensure this never happens again,” he said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Frey said his office was reviewing the request, while department spokesperson Jackie Farwell said state officials “took immediate steps to deactivate the link to the website, remove the information, and initiate a thorough review” that included seeking advice from Frey’s office.

“Maine DHHS regrets that this isolated incident occurred and we remain committed to protecting the privacy of those we serve,” she said.

The 10-member Legislative Council, led by Democrats, would have to vote to allow Connor’s bill to move forward this year since the regular deadline for filing legislation has passed.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...