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Hundreds of N.W.T. health records found at Fort Simpson dump

The documents contain detailed information about patients’ mental health and history of drug use, including applications to addictions treatment facilities, progress reports from those facilities, and detailed notes from one-on-one counselling sessions.

Documents contain detailed info about patients' mental health, drug use, counselling sessions

Randal Sibbeston says he found hundreds of confidential medical records at the Fort Simpson dump. As of Thursday, they were still in his possession. He is asking to speak with the N.W.T. health minister directly. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

An N.W.T man says he found hundreds of confidential medical records at the Fort Simpson dump.

The documents contain detailed information about patients' mental health and history of drug use, including applications to addictions treatment facilities, progress reports from those facilities, and detailed notes from one-on-one counselling sessions.

The documents, many of which were on N.W.T. government letterhead, also included social insurance, treaty and health card numbers.

Randal Sibbeston, a local Canadian ranger, said he found the records in a bankers box at the salvage area of the Fort Simpson dump.

The village of about 1,200 is in the territory's Dehcho region, approximately 500 kilometres west of Yellowknife. It is common for people in the North to visit dumps to find discarded construction material or reusable items. 

Randal Sibbeston says he found the files in a Bankers Box at the Fort Simpson dump. The box broke and he moved them to a garbage bag. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

"I was looking around at some of the things that were there. I noticed a big cardboard box of files. So I grabbed it and sort of looked," Sibbeston told CBC News.

"I flipped to one of the names and I saw a name that I knew so I pulled it out and I looked at it and inside was information of the most personal nature that I can even imagine."

CBC News has viewed some of the documents but is unable to verify their authenticity. The majority of the records are from the late 1990s, though some are as recent as 2010. 

Randal Sibbeston at the salvage area of the dump in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. This is where he says he found the box of medical records. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Drugs, suicide and abuse detailed

A file that sat at the top of the large stack of documents was a patient's application to attend alcohol and drug treatment at the Poundmaker's Lodge in Edmonton, Alta.

In it, the patient lists the types of drugs and solvents they have consumed and when. That file also contained information about if and when the patient had suicidal thoughts, as well as details about physical abuse they endured as a child.

Inside was information of the most personal nature that I can even imagine.- Randal Sibbeston

"I can't think of anything worse that could happen to a person's personal information than for it to get thrown at the dump like a piece of garbage," Sibbeston said.   

A note in the file from the patient's counsellor speaks about the times the patient has relapsed and the shame that followed.

CBC News notified the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority about the documents. A spokesperson said the department is investigating how the documents came to be in Sibbeston's possession.

A fact sheet provided by the authority said the investigation will focus on the "root causes, accountability, and on identifying any processes or procedures that need improvement."

"Our first priority is to recover these records," the sheet said.

'I can't think of anything worse that could happen to a person’s personal information than for it to get thrown at the dump like a piece of garbage,' Randal Sibbeston said. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

History of health breaches

The territory's health department has a history of patient privacy breaches.

In June, the Government of the Northwest Territories announced that there had been a data breach after a laptop was stolen from an employee's locked car in Ottawa, affecting up to 80 per cent of N.W.T. residents' health records.

Between April 2016 and March 2017, the territory's information and privacy commissioner investigated eight files under the Health Information Act, including three breaches of patient data. One of those cases involved dozens of patients in Inuvik whose health records were "inappropriately" compromised by staff at the hospital.

A USB stick with 4,000 patient records was temporarily lost in 2014; in 2010 and 2012 medical records were accidentally faxed to CBC.

As of Friday afternoon, Sibbeston was still in possession of the documents. He said he's been in touch with N.W.T. Privacy Commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts and he intends to turn them over to her.

He said he contacted the health authority on Thursday and asked to speak to Health Minister Glen Abernethy. Sibbeston said he was told that the authority was considering his request.

Under the Northwest Territories Health Information Act, it is mandatory that the government notify residents whose privacy has been breached.

The health authority's fact sheet said once the records are recovered it will assess who has been impacted.

"Individuals who have been impacted will be contacted directly and be provided with a better understanding of what information may have been included in the documents."

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