Manitoba

197 health records 'inappropriately accessed' by Manitoba employee — for birthday cards

A Manitoba government employee wasn't up to anything nefarious when she peeked at the private health records and home addresses of Manitoba patients — she just wanted to know where to send her love and birthday wishes.

Investigation underway after former employee allegedly accessed Manitoba patients' health details

Names, dates of birth and addresses of nearly 200 patients were 'inappropriately accessed' by a former government employee, Manitoba's Health Ministry says. (iStock)

A Manitoba government employee apparently wasn't up to anything shady when she peeked at the private health records and home addresses of Manitoba patients — she just wanted to know where to send her love and birthday wishes, a provincial spokesperson says.

"I don't suspect that there was a nefarious intention, but it doesn't make it right," Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Monday.

A spokesperson with Manitoba Health said an internal investigation is underway after 197 patient health records were "inappropriately accessed" by the woman, who no longer works for the province.

Names, dates of birth and addresses were accessed electronically by the employee, who was not authorized to view the information. Other details, such as medical bills, diagnoses, prescriptions, hospitalizations and visits to the doctor, were not viewed, the province said.

A spokesperson with Manitoba Health said the breach doesn't appear to be "malicious or for the purpose of fraud."

"A former employee accessed information for the purpose of contacting persons known to her for purposes such as sending a card, birthday wishes or congratulatory messages," the provincial spokesperson told CBC News.

'Entirely inappropriate'

"Although the access may appear to be for positive purposes, the access was entirely inappropriate and inconsistent with policy and legislation."

The spokesperson wouldn't confirm when the breach happened or whether it is related to the employee no longer working for Manitoba Health.

"The department takes the protection of personal health information very seriously," a spokesperson with the province said in a statement. "The department apologizes for this incident and is continuing to provide ongoing training to staff to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities to maintain the privacy of personal health information."

News of the privacy breach comes less than two weeks after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced paper records from 1,000 patients were taken from Health Sciences Centre in October.

Despite the fact the breach doesn't appear to be malicious, Goertzen said the province notified those affected because they have a right to know what happened.

"Obviously we need to send a message throughout the health-care system that when people give their information — whether it's at a clinic with a doctor or at a hospital within the ER — they're giving that information for a particular purpose, and they have an expectation and a right to know that that information is going to be held privately," he said.

"Regardless of the reason that the information is accessed, we want to send a message that it's wrong."

Individuals affected by the breach can contact the Manitoba ombudsman by email (ombudsman@ombudsman.mb.ca) or on the phone (204-982-9130 or 1-800-665-0531) to file a complaint.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Journalist

Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from Sean Kavanagh

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