Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Medical records allegedly sold for scrap did not include Social Security numbers, authorities say

September 17, 2010 |  3:28 pm

No Social Security numbers, or specific medical or financial information was released when a Los Angeles County janitor allegedly sold 14 boxes of patient records to a recycling center, officials said Friday.

The Times reported details of the case, including the arrest of Robert Sanders, 55, in Friday's newspaper. He was charged this week with felony commercial burglary.

The files, which contained the names of 33,000 patients, addresses, phone numbers and medical record numbers, were sold for $40, according to L.A. County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The privacy breach was discovered in late July when officials at Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center in Willowbrook discovered files were missing from the facility, according to a news release Friday from county health and Sheriff's Department officials.

An investigation into the missing files led authorities to Sanders, who was among the custodians questioned about where the files had gone.

"One such employee confessed that he had personally taken the files to a recycling company for its paper value," according to the news release. "At that time, MLK-MACC referred the matter to the Sheriff who conducted a law enforcement investigation."

Beginning next week, anyone affected by the breach will be notified by mail, officials said Friday. The letter will contain instructions about steps to take to prevent any potential harm.

“We take patient privacy in this department very seriously," said Carol Meyer, head of operations for the Department of Health.  “Despite measures previously employed by our facilities this unforeseen event occurred.  In the wake of this unfortunate incident, we are redoubling our security measures to ensure the safety and integrity of patient information.”

Whitmore said authorities do not believe that Sanders had any intention to commit identity theft or reveal protected medical information.

Under the federal medical privacy law, known as HIPAA, protected information includes "demographic data" that "identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe it can be used to identify the individual," which may include names, addresses and other information that was contained in the documents taken from the clinic.

Read more: Janitor at L.A. County health clinic allegedly stole files for recycling money

-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Molly Hennessy-Fiske