New details about Calgary healthcare workers privacy breach

CBC News has uncovered new details about Calgary health-care workers 'inappropriately' accessing a patient's information last fall.

Patient at centre of snooping by employees not informed of incident

The South Health Campus at the centre of a privacy breach. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

CBC News has uncovered new details about Calgary healthcare workers "inappropriately" accessing a patient's information last fall.

One Alberta Health Services (AHS) employee was fired and 47 disciplined for the alleged privacy breaches.

Confidential AHS briefing notes — unearthed by CBC News through a freedom of information request — detail how officials investigated 160 cases of health workers accessing a "current and deceased" patient's records.

The investigation confirmed that "48 Calgary Zone employees inappropriately accessed patient information."

AHS officials also decided not to notify the patient at the centre of the privacy breach because a doctor recommended against telling the individual or an "authorized representative."

Privacy commissioner investigating

CBC News has also learned that AHS's investigation is drawing to a close, with a final report expected in mid-January.

Alberta's Information and Privacy Commissioner continues to investigate the alleged privacy infractions, after AHS referred the matter to the commissioner last fall.

Scott Sibbald, a spokesperson the commissioner, told CBC the investigation is ongoing.

"There is a whole lot of complexity in these types of investigations," he said.

Last October, AHS CEO Vickie Kaminski sent a memorandum to all employees reminding them of their obligation to protect patient privacy.

"It is not only the right thing to do, it is the law," she said.

"While I commend the vast majority of AHS employees and physicians who respect patient privacy and appropriately access patient information every day, I cannot stress enough the seriousness with which AHS takes patient privacy, and any breach that does occur," added Kaminski.

The confidential briefing note obtained by CBC News reveals the all-staff memo was "intended to underscore the seriousness with which AHS takes privacy breaches, and the consequences that individuals who perpetrate breaches can face."

Union upset

The province's largest nurses' union continues to insist AHS officials overreacted.

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) filed almost two dozen grievances to dispute AHS's disciplinary actions.

"We feel AHS's actions were completely inappropriate and caused too much anxiety for staff," said the UNA's Director of Labour Relations David Harrigan.

At the time of the memo's public release, the UNA called on Kaminski to quit.

Harrigan expects the grievance process to wrap up in the next couple of weeks.

In 2015, there was one conviction and three charges for improper access of health information in Alberta.

The information and privacy commissioner is also currently looking into numerous other breaches that could become offence investigations. In total, there have been four convictions under the Health Information Act that have resulted in fines, including one with criminal code charges.