Nfld. & Labrador

Snooping employee showed interest in pregnant women's medical records, says lawyer

Bob Buckingham says his office has fielded a disproportionate number of calls from women who say medical records relating to their pregnancies were inappropriately accessed between 2018 and 2020.

String of privacy breaches lasted from 2018 to 2020

According to St. John's lawyer Bob Buckingham, privacy breaches that hit Central Health between 2018 and 2020 had a particular impact on pregnant women. (Dragan Grkic/Shutterstock)

A years-old privacy breach at Central Health has had a particular impact on pregnant women and new parents, says a St. John's lawyer who is filed a class-action lawsuit.

Bob Buckingham says a disproportionate number of calls to his office regarding the breach are from people who say medical records relating to their pregnancies were inappropriately accessed between 2018 and 2020.

He filed a class-action lawsuit in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in February, seeking to represent about 240 people affected by that string of privacy breaches, and an additional 20 who were notified more recently that their medical records were also inappropriately accessed.

"We do know, which is very disconcerting about this particular circumstance, is that there seems to be a particular interest in people's obstetric files," Buckingham said. "People are finding this very hard to comprehend."

Buckingham says he hopes to unearth more information about what happened over the course of the lawsuit's discovery phase, but is basing his understanding of which groups were targeted on the types of people who are calling his office.

"We've had people say, 'I can't understand why this individual had an interest in my child or children,' that's the one we're getting the most of," he said. "People are creeped out by what has happened here, why someone had that particular interest."

Buckingham represents two women who've filed suit against Central Health, and is seeking to have that lawsuit certified as a class action. (Submitted by Bob Buckingham)

The multi-year privacy breach was disclosed to the public in July. At the time, Central Health CEO Andrée Robichaud said an employee was effectively "snooping" in patient files.

Buckingham's lawsuit seeks cash payments for the plaintiffs for the damages they experienced; It alleges Central Health was negligent in securing the medical records of patients.

The process will take some time: It first has to be certified as a class action before the core legal arguments in the case can begin.

Central Health said in a statement that it has received the lawsuit, but would not comment further during the court process. 

Buckingham says he has not yet received the health authority's formal statement of defence.

In a previous statement, before the lawsuit was filed, a spokesperson for Central Health said the body had taken steps to tighten its security protocols since the multi-year privacy breach was discovered in 2020.

"Central Health places great emphasis on maintaining privacy and confidentiality of patient information through its privacy awareness and education framework," spokesperson Gayle St. Croix wrote in January. "All new and current employees complete mandatory privacy training, annually."

A closeup of the Central Health logo on the sign of a white ambulance. The logo shows a stylized rendering of two figures holding hands, a leaf and the sun above some waves. To the left of the logo the word "paramedics" can be seen in blue on an orange line.
Buckingham claims in a lawsuit that Central Health's failure to protect medical information amounted to negligence. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The employee who was responsible for that privacy breach no longer works at Central Health, according to the authority.

Buckingham's statement of claim says the plaintiffs in the lawsuit felt "distress, humiliation, anger, upset, mental anguish" and "shock" when they learned that their medical records had been accessed.

"It's a breach of personal, confidential information that goes to your biological core, it goes right to your identity," the lawyer added in an interview.

He said he also hopes his lawsuit will make Central Health take further steps to strengthen their patient privacy protections.

"We have to protect that in our society."

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Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter, working primarily with The St. John's Morning Show.