Hidden camera reveals security breach at Hull Hospital lab
Professional Order of Medical Technologists warned about need for tighter security in 2017
A hidden camera investigation by Radio-Canada has revealed lax security at the hematology and biochemistry lab of the Hull Hospital, despite a 2017 warning from Quebec's professional order of medical technologists calling for the institution to restrict access.
Quebec's health ministry said the security situation for the lab "does not appear to meet standards."
At 7 a.m. on March 8, a Radio-Canada reporter entered the Gatineau, Que., hospital with a hidden camera and was able to easily go inside the hematology and biochemistry lab.
The reporter moved around without any employee in the lab confronting him. Medical samples were within reach, but the reporter did not touch them.
Prior to the investigation, Radio-Canada consulted a microbiologist to ensure there would be no contamination of medical samples.
After being told about the situation by Radio-Canada, the Outaouais regional health authority (le Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais, or CISSSO) said the lab was not monitored or locked between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.
CISSSO said the lab is not locked during its office hours and the receptionist is responsible for monitoring access during the workday, starting at 8 a.m.
CISSSO changes procedures
Dr. Guy Morissette, CISSSO's director of professional services, said the situation was corrected after the authority was informed of the security breach.
"The incident made us re-examine our procedures," he said in French. "It's clear between 7 and 8 in the morning … there was no control on entry, that's certain."
Morissette said the movement of employees who were just starting their shifts created the gap.
"People arrive around 6:30 or 6:45 [a.m.] and go to their workstations to work on their samples, like they would during any workday, but they didn't set the access system back up again," he said.
The Outaouais health authority said they have since taken the necessary measures so the lab will be locked with a keypad and access code at all times when the receptionist is not at the front desk.
Medical technologists call for action
Medical labs must always be absolutely secured, according to Doris Levasseur Bourbeau, president of l'Ordre professionnel des technologistes médicaux du Québec (OPTMQ) or, in English, the Professional Order of Medical Technologists of Quebec.
Levasseur Bourbeau worked for 33 years in medical labs, including overseeing labs at three Montreal-area hospitals.
"Access to the lab must be exclusively limited to authorized personnel," Bourbeau said in French.
Visitors passing through the lab could distract employees, increasing the risk for error, she said.
"People in the lab are working with samples that are very precious, very important," she said. "We're talking about blood samples, cerebrospinal fluid, where you cannot have people disturbed by comings and goings."
Levasseur Bourbeau said the Hull Hospital needs to control access to samples to avoid cross-contamination and the potential of exposure to infection.
Health ministry involved
After Radio-Canada reached out, Quebec's health ministry said it will be pursuing the case at the Hull Hospital.
"The situation described does not seem to meet the required standards, but the Ministry of Health and Social Services will conduct the necessary checks at the institution," said Noemie Vanheuverzwiyn, a ministry spokesperson, in a written French-language statement.
The ministry said institutions are responsible for taking the necessary steps to implement standards.
The hospital's lab should be secure, efficient and confidential, said the ministry, with lab access controlled by locking doors or using a keypad or swipe card to allow different levels of access.
The ministry said an accrediting body is in charge of checking on whether labs are conforming with the rules.
OPTMQ president Levasseur Bourbeau said more needs to be done to enforce the rules.
"We work with the ministry of health to ensure people conform to the rules, that norms are in place and they are followed," she said. "It's not just to put procedures in place, people must follow them every day and every moment."
First warning in 2017
In July 2017, the CISSSO was given a warning by OPTMQ. After two visits to the hospital, the OPTMQ inspector noted the absence of controlled access to the laboratory area.
Radio-Canada obtained a copy of that report through Quebec's access to information law.
The report said the hospital should create a list of authorized personnel and limit access to zones where there could be potential contamination and confidential material.
Levasseur Bourbeau said she hopes it is an isolated incident and the hospital gives managers and laboratory technicians the tools they need to create a secure zone.
Radio-Canada confirmed other hospitals in the Ottawa region have opted for swipe cards or a doorbell.
Access cards may come to Outaouais
"If there is any place where expectations around confidential material are very high, it's in laboratories," said Louis-Philippe Mayrand, commissioner of complaints and quality for CISSSO.
Mayrand said he supports a project to use access cards which is in the process of being implemented at CISSSO and could be expanded to all its labs.
"When it comes to health and social services, the client has the right to confidentiality. It's in the law," he said in French.
Dr. Morisette, CISSSO's director of professional services, said an access card program may be in the works for the Hull Hospital as part of a larger review of the region's lab management practices.
With files from Radio-Canada's Guillaume Dumont