George Mathewson and Troy Shantz
Bluewater Health has contacted the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario about a potential breach of confidential patient information stemming from a break-in at the former Sarnia General Hospital site.
“There is a potential exposure. Of course we are assessing the risk right now but we believe at this point that there is very limited risk for any sort of patient breach of information,” said Julia Oosterman, the hospital’s chief of communications & public affairs.
On Jan. 18, Sarnia Police reported a 30-year-old woman had been arrested after allegedly exiting a taxi and leaving behind a number of drug prescription booklets.
Police said the prescription pads had been stolen from the former hospital site, which closed in 2011 but has been broken into repeatedly by vandals and thieves.
Oosterman said Bluewater Health officials have undertaken an internal investigation and risk assessment because 10% to 15% of the booklets contain information that identifies patients and patient details.
“If there is a patient privacy breach, absolutely, one hundred percent, I am committed to making sure we notify all of our patients in a way that is appropriate and sensitive to their needs.”
Because the pads reportedly went straight from the arrested woman to the cab driver to police there is little risk that sensitive information was exposed, she added.
“There’s a whole formal protocol we go through, and it’s actually a legal process, and we go through the Privacy Commissioner.”
Asked why anything containing patient information was still sitting around in an abandoned hospital, Oosterman said that following its decommissioning in 2011 a company was hired to clear it out.
“But the building as we left it is not the building that is there today. That being said, I one hundred percent concur that they should not have been left behind,” she said.
The boarded-up Mitton Street property has being looted repeatedly by copper thieves and used for training by police and fire personnel. In 2013 the Canadian military used concussive devices inside during a training exercise that rattled the windows of neighbouring houses.
The prescription pads, dating from 1999 to 2006, were once used by doctors to prescribe drugs under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program, Oosterman said.
Following the alleged theft, Bluewater Health sent in another team that included staff and security to conduct a full sweep of the property and clear it of any other items.
“Nothing of significance” and “nothing that suggested confidentiality” was found, she said.
The hospital also contacted local pharmacists and all confirmed that no drug prescriptions were received or filled using the old pads, she said.
Sarnia Police, which received the pads from the cab driver on Jan. 10, have charged a 30-year-old woman, of no fixed address, with break and enter, possessing stolen property and breaching probation.