Privacy breach, AHS secrecy and lack of firings an 'additional blow' to Christine Hagan's family

The brother of the deceased woman at the centre of a privacy breach scandal says he's disappointed his already-struggling family had to find out through the media that dozens of health-care workers had inappropriately accessed her medical files — and that no one has lost their jobs as a result.

Brother of deceased woman who killed her own daughter 'disappointed' by curiosity-driven file access

Brian van Vliet says news of a curiosity-driven privacy breach of his sister Christine Hagan's medical files was an additional blow to the family, as they were already struggling with the understanding that she had killed her daughter after learning of her own imminent death from cancer. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

The brother of the deceased woman at the centre of a privacy-breach scandal says he's disappointed his already-struggling family had to find out through the media that dozens of health-care workers had inappropriately accessed her medical files — and that no one has lost their jobs as a result.

"I'm disappointed that professionals would access files out of curiosity," said Brian van Vliet, whose sister Christine Hagan died in November after killing her own daughter, Jessica Hagan, in September.

Jessica was found dead inside her Cranston home along with Christine, who was in medical distress. Christine was taken to hospital, where she was monitored by police until she died of cancer on Nov. 21.

Police declared the death a homicide following Christine's death but said they would file no charges.

Family members said Christine, facing a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis, opted to kill Jessica with a lethal dose of drugs, but later regretted the decision on her own deathbed.

News of the privacy breach broke while Christine was still in hospital on Oct. 14, when Alberta Health Services issued a press release saying one employee had been fired and 47 others had been disciplined for inappropriately accessing patient files — although it wasn't made clear whose privacy had been breached.

Citing confidential sources, the Calgary Sun reported the next day that the patient files belonged to Christine and that "morbid curiosity" had led to the inappropriate access.

'An additional blow'

That was the first the family had heard of the privacy breach, according to van Vliet.

"It was just an additional blow with everything else that was going on," he said. "Obviously 2015 was a tumultuous year for our family, and having that happen on top of it was just another piece."

Meanwhile, CBC filed a freedom-of-information request and later obtained internal briefing memos from AHS indicating officials had investigated 160 cases of workers accessing "current and deceased" patient records and concluded that 48 employees had done so inappropriately.

Those memos also revealed that AHS officials had decided not to notify the patient at the centre of the privacy breach because a doctor recommended against it.

"I'm disappointed that we weren't informed by AHS," van Vliet said. "I think if it's found out that a file has been breached, the family should be made aware of that and not hear it through the media."

Jessica Hagan was killed by her mother, Christine, in September, according to family. Police confirmed Jessica's death as a homicide but announced after Christine's death in November that no charges would be laid in the case. (Facebook)

It was further revealed that AHS had withdrawn or reduced the disciplinary action against 24 of the 48 employees, including the one who had initially been fired, after the nurses union filed numerous grievances.

The decision further frustrates the family.

"My opinion is anybody that accessed the file out of curiosity should be let go," van Vliet said. "They're professionals, they know the rules, and they know what they should and shouldn't do."

"I hope that the people in charge make sure that it's not just swept under that carpet," he added.

"I think that they need to take the necessary steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again."