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State Public Health Department loses records of 2,550 people

December 15, 2010 | 12:38 pm

State public health authorities have lost medical and other records for 2,550 healthcare facility residents, workers and state staff, officials said Wednesday in a statement.

The records were on a magnetic tape reported missing by the California Department of Public Health in September after workers sent it via U.S. mail from a West Covina field office to the central office in Sacramento for a computer backup, the statement said.

The envelope arrived unsealed and empty Sept. 27, and state officials immediately reported the privacy breach and began investigating, according to the statement. The lost tape contained confidential department e-mails; Social Security numbers for department employees, some healthcare workers and facility residents; investigative reports; background information on healthcare workers; the names of health care facility residents and their diagnoses.

On Nov. 23, investigators finished compiling a list of individuals whose information may have been compromised as a result of the lost tape.

State regulators were still notifying those individuals this week and advising them on how to protect themselves against identity theft, according to the statement, although there have been no reports of identity theft related to the missing tape.

“The privacy of medical and other personal information is a top priority,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the department. “We take any breach of secure documents very seriously, and we regret this occurrence. We will redouble our efforts to ensure that everyone’s personal information is properly protected.”

Department officials have since made changes to reduce the chances of another loss, and they are researching ways to eliminate the backup process, according to the statement.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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