AHS failed to train and oversee hospital staff who snooped on private health info, investigation finds
Dozens of employees who were initially disciplined had sanctions rescinded in wake of failures of management
Alberta Health Services failed to provide proper oversight and training for workers at Calgary's South Health Campus who snooped on the sensitive health information of a mother and daughter, according to the province's privacy commissioner.
The commissioner's investigation into the 2015 incident found 49 of 160 staff members who accessed the confidential information had no reasonable justification for doing so.
The 49 staff members included AHS managers, nurses and non-nursing or clerical workers, according to the report released Wednesday.
Several of the staff members cited simply having "curiosity" about the patient — whose case had been in the news in relation to a homicide investigation — or offered no justification at all, according to the report.
One of the workers was initially fired and 48 others were disciplined but, after grievances were filed, the terminated worker was reinstated and the disciplinary action against the rest was either reduced or, in most cases, rescinded.
The investigation found a "significant gap" between AHS policies at South Health Campus and what provincial law requires.
It also found AHS failed to track individual users who accessed health records, failed to maintain a log of the records that users accessed and failed to regularly monitor user compliance.
'Smart cards' misused
The investigation revealed that "many" of the 49 employees misused "smart cards" required to access medical records by leaving them in the electronic record system "for their entire shift."
"Smart cards are a way to uniquely identify system users, and the practice of leaving cards in the system defeats the protection this technology offers and is a contravention of AHS policy and the HIA [Health Information Act]," the report reads.
"Notably, there was no evidence of privacy training for a number of the 49 employees involved," it adds.
Given these failures of management, the report says, "AHS found it was appropriate to reduce or rescind the discipline" against most of the employees.
Homicide investigation closed
Details of the case came out in the news via police and family members after the initial breach.
In September 2015, the mother, Christine Hagan, was dying of pancreatic cancer and, knowing she only had weeks left to live, gave a lethal dose of drugs to her 19-year-old-daughter, Jessica, who had Down syndrome.
Hagan's brother told CBC News that, in her final days, his sister was distraught about what she had done.
Calgary police deemed Jessica's death a homicide but said no charges would be laid, as her mother had died.