Confidential medical records scattered in parking lot

Rosie Mullaley
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Police, Eastern Health confirm documents stolen from physician’s car in break-in

St. John’s parking enforcement officers Randy Bragg (left) and Kerwin Thomas gather up medical documents they found scattered across a parking lot between Duckworth Street and Henry Street Friday morning. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

A couple of city parking enforcement officers on routine patrol in downtown St. John’s Friday morning found something more interesting than illegally parked cars. Randy Bragg and Kerwin Thomas discovered a huge mess — hundreds of papers scattered on a parking lot between Duckworth Street and Henry Street.

But it was more than just garbage.

When the men began cleaning up the mess, they discovered it was actually confidential medical records.

The documents included everything from patient medical backgrounds, surgery information, urology reports, doctor-to-doctor correspondence and doctors’ dictated notes on ultrasound photos, and a voice recording device.

“They were everywhere,” Bragg said, stashing a handful of papers into a large briefcase, which they also found nearby.

The documents blanketed the side of the hill and parking lot and had blown across Duckworth Street, onto the road and sidewalks.

Some of the sheets were so wet, the men couldn’t pick them up.

The patients’ and doctors’ names could be clearly read.

A businessman passing by also picked up some of the papers and handed them to the attendants.

“I was coming down this way,” Bragg said pointing to the top of Henry Street, “and Kerwin was coming the other way at the same time, when we both saw it all.

“When we saw what they were, we figured we would pick them up as soon as we could.

“I mean, this is pretty private stuff.”

The men also discovered broken glass in the parking lot, along with a vehicle that had passenger windows missing and plastic covering them.

Minutes later, at around 10 a.m., as the men were scouring the area to ensure they had collected all the papers, a blue car pulled up. The male driver informed them that his car had been parked on the lot Thursday night and that a laptop computer had been stolen from it.

The men immediately called the police.

They waited on the parking lot for close to an hour before officers showed up.

They spoke briefly to the police before handing over the briefcase filled with the material they’d collected.

Provincial court co-ordinator Tamara Church was one of the first to spot the scattered papers, when she was parking her car nearby.

She was on her way to an important meeting but had time to grab a few sheets.

“When I saw what they were,” Church said, “I called Eastern Health right away but I just got voice mail. So I left a message, hoping someone would get it.”

RNC spokeswoman Const. Suzanne FitzGerald said officers returned the documents to their rightful owner.

“The complainant did report their vehicle broken into,” FitzGerald said.

“Therefore the RNC (is) investigating the (car break-in) and the found property complaint.”

In an statement emailed to The Telegram, Eastern Health spokeswoman Jackie O’Brien confirmed the documents belonged to a practising physician, who had them stolen from his car.

“At this time, we can confirm that the majority of the documents were not the property of Eastern Health,” she said.

She said most of the documents have been retrieved and have been returned to the physician.

“As per our protocol regarding a potential privacy breach, an internal investigation has been initiated,” O’Brien said.

“This investigation involves contacting the patients involved and providing full disclosure of the issue.

“Eastern Health regrets that this incident has occurred and will be reiterating the importance of protecting patient information with our physicians.”

Organizations: Tamara Church

Geographic location: Duckworth Street

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Recent comments

  • Wow
    November 27, 2010 - 11:27

    It's awfully funny that MOST people wouldn't leave as much as a $5 bill in their car because of the high number of car break-in incidents these days, yet this doctor left medical records around like that. How are people expected to feel like their privacy is being respected? How many stories have we heard in recent years about privacy breaches? We've seen it from government, Eastern Health, the school system, etc. All of these places should be taking the utmost care when it comes to privacy. I would like to applaud the traffic services workers who took the time to collect what they could of these papers. A lot of people would have kept walking and let the papers spread even further.

  • Craig
    November 27, 2010 - 10:08

    "They waited on the parking lot for close to an hour before officers showed up." Way to go, RNC!

  • Mr T.
    November 27, 2010 - 09:45

    This is ridiculous!! The Dr.'s Names shoudl be released, and the patients should be told about this, so they can go find a better Dr. Very, very, very irresponsible.

  • Willie Hunt Pouch Cove NL
    November 27, 2010 - 09:42

    Christmas is all gone modern these days. One time all you needed was a stocking full of fruit and friends and family. These days you need a mattress full of money to make it happen and the countdowns to Christmas got people drove. You never know what's in a briefcase,laptop bag or knapsack layed in the backseat of a car so it's always worth the risk to have a look-see. If you're leaving your car unattended this holiday season and a litre of milk cost $4.00 you are better off taking your valuables with you. Willie Hunt Pouch Cove NL

  • nasty nate
    November 27, 2010 - 08:24

    No Accountability with this Government or the Health Authority. And they want to spread our information to even more people with this Pharma-Link fiasco. Time that each and everyone of us Lawyer up and file suite.