Briefcase with private patient information stolen from Covenant Health

A briefcase containing private patient information for at least 41 people was stolen but later returned, Covenant Health said Sunday.

At least 41 people affected by theft that took place on Dec. 23

Covenant Health said Sunday that a briefcase containing private patient information as well as job applications was stolen from an employee's vehicle in December.

A briefcase containing personal information for at least 41 people, including patient files and job applications, was stolen last year but later returned, Covenant Health (CH) said Sunday.

The announcement comes only days after Alberta's health minister said an unencrypted laptop containing the personal health information of 620,000 Albertans had been stolen last September.

In the latest incident which occurred  Dec. 23, a briefcase was stolen overnight from a Covenant Health employee's locked vehicle in northwest Edmonton.

Jon Popowich, chief privacy and quality officer with CH, said the employee had the information in their possession because they were travelling to a site the following day.

"The briefcase itself contained the work for the following day," Popowich said, noting that as a multi-site organization the practice of taking work home is "fairly common for some of our staff members" who move between sites.

The health care provider said the briefcase contained files from nine job applicants and 32 patients.  The case was later found on the front lawn of the residence from where it was stolen with all the documents intact.

The incident was reported the day after it occurred to Edmonton police, Alberta's privacy commissioner, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health.

Full apology

Those affected by the breach were all notified in early January and given a full apology. 

"The majority of them from my understanding were appreciative of the call," said Popowich, explaining letters were also sent out for people's records.

CH believes none of the information was copied, but are working to make sure a similar incident doesn't happen again.

In the mean time, they will continue to use a mix of paper and electronic files.

"The reality is that despite the computer age a lot of health care information is still in paper and is communicated that way," Popowich said.