Snooping in NSHA patient files

Earlier in November, Nova Scotia’s Privacy Commissioner, Catherine Tully, revealed that health officials had been caught “snooping” on 335 patient health records.

This is such a serious invasion of privacy that it is a prosecutable offence.

Tully’s annual report said an investigation into the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSGA) revealed “a dangerous and insidious culture of entitlement” into viewing records. Anyone who has dealt with the NSHA knows that “culture of entitlement” extends well beyond patient files.

Curiously, the commissioner noted that the NSHA had co-operated with the investigation. Did they have choice? Could they have refused?

Read the article here:

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/regional/officials-caught-snooping-on-health-records-nova-scotia-privacy-commissioner-says-259358/

After the story broke Colin Stevenson, vice president of quality and system performance at the NSHA wrote a letter to the editor of The Herald to explain how seriously the authority takes personal privacy. He, like the rest of the crew at the NSHA, did not say they were sorry patient privacy was violated. This was no doubt done on the advice of lawyers who caution to never apologize lest it be seen as an admission of guilt. But guess what? The commissioner already said there is guilt.

Stevenson’s letter spoke of “the failure of an employee…” except this wasn’t the failure of one employee, it was six employees at multiple sites in the NSHA’s Central Zone (that’s head office area). This raises numerous questions:

  1. Were these employees, who the commissioner liken as “health officials”, doing this for personal prurient interest ?
  2. Was it revenge?
  3. Since six health officials in one area were involved, was this a coordinated action?
  4. If it was coordinated, to what purpose? Was it personal gain, some political objective or in connection with some criminal enterprise? (There have been instances across Canada where patient files were illegally accessed for the purpose of acquiring drugs.)

Stevenson’s letter can be found here:

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/voice-of-the-people-nov-20-2018-260824/

Ironically, the identities of the officials accused of illegally accessing patient files have been protected as has any action taken against the staff.  The NSHA is good at working privacy rules to protect themselves.

This is not the first time health officials/employees have improperly/illegally accessed patient files.

In October 2018 a six-year-long violation (2005-11) of 120 patient files at the Hants Community Hospital was revealed. At the time Capital Health described this as “inappropriate access”. This resulted in a $400,000 settlement to patients.

A 2012 violation of 707 patient files at the Roseway Hospital came to light in 2017. That cost Nova Scotia taxpayers a $1 million settlement, plus legal costs as well as administrative and investigative costs.

Interestingly, a previous substantial violation and the most recent one were done by employees working in the former Capital Health Authority’s facilities, which is now the NSHA’s Central Zone. That’s significant because these violations were done right under the noses of senior management. This wasn’t done at some distant location executives never set foot in. If they don’t know what’s happening under their noses, how can we trust that they are on top of every day operations across the province? Have there been consequences for executives who fail to monitor those in their employ?

Each time a violation is uncovered, the health authority du jour issues a statement that it takes “its commitment to personal privacy seriously and it’s essential that patients can trust their personal information is protected.” Yet violations continue.

Platitudes aren’t good enough. The public deserves a detailed explanation for why these NSHA staff were looking at patient files.

There is no legal right to privacy for an accused. We need to know their name, their position and the purpose of their violations. And what consequences there are for them, the patients and the taxpayer.

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Snooping in NSHA patient files

  1. buddyboy546 says:

    Why is so much of what the NSHA does shrouded in secrecy? Trust me, that’s a rhetorical question; the answer is self evident. How can the pubic question or object to things they know nothing about? What an expensive fiasco.

    • The NSHA may have difficulty hiring doctors, but it has no problem hiring communications staff. They have an army of PR/communications professionals who positions seem to evolve around deflection of questions and protection of executives.

  2. lee mcclair says:

    I HAVE NEVER UNDERSTOOD WHY THE IWK IS STILL ALLOWED TO FUNCTION AS A STAND ALONE ENTITY IT IS TOTALLY CORRUPT AND SHROUDED IN SECRECY IT IS TIME TO STOP THE LOTTERIES AND DONATIONS TILL ALL THIS IS SORTED OUT TOO MUCH MONEY AND NO MORAL IMPERATIVE THIS IS JUST TOO MUCH MONEY TO BE LOOKED AFTER BY LIKES OF THESE PEOPLE AND MCNEIL SEES NOTHING AMISS HERE WELL THIS SPEAKS VOLUMES

    • The IWK is a separate entity from the Nova Scotia Health Authority because if was founded with bequests from the Killam family and because it is a regional hospital for sick kids. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland Labrador don’t have hospitals specializing in pediatric care. The IWK is financially supported by all four provinces. So what happens to it is not totally the responsibility of the province of Nova Scotia.

      It has to be separate because of the specialty of care and need for nibbleness given how quickly childhood illness arise.

      As for being totally corrupt, we can’t say that about the hospital as a whole. Police have brought charges against two individuals for actions deemed to be illegal, so that raises the question of corruption. We have yet to see how far those bad acts have travelled throughout the administrative class.

      What the spending scandals and abuse at the IWK illustrates is the ineffectiveness and lack of due diligence of the board. It raises an issue about corporate governance that needs to be revisited for the IWK, NSHA and all crown authorities and agencies. The time is past when public boards acted as rubber stamps for administrators. We need activitist boards who aren’t afraid to challenge the paid executives and even say “No” to them. That’s the other thing, if you look at the IWK and NSHA boards, they’re rich and white. They have impressive career resumes, but no real experience in receiving medical care in this province. They also serve for free. Until we pay directors, we’re just going to continue to fish the limited pool of South End millionaires to be cheerleaders for the status quo.

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