Nova Scotia

Former Capital Health worker sorry for privacy breach

A former employee of Nova Scotia's largest health board is apologizing for breaching the privacy of 120 patients by viewing confidential health records over a six-year period.
Katharine Zinck Lawrence says she viewed files of family and friends out of curiousity. (CBC)

A former employee of Nova Scotia's largest health board is apologizing for breaching the privacy of 120 patients by viewing confidential health records over a six-year period.

Katharine Zinck Lawrence, who held several positions within the Capital District Health Authority in 11 years, talked to CBC News about her regret in viewing the files.

"I'm not particularly proud of what I've done. I know it was wrong," she said Tuesday.

Lawrence admits to viewing the private medical files of family and friends while working for the health authority, but she said it was nowhere near 120 people.

"I couldn't think of 105 people that I accessed without authorization," Lawrence told CBC News.

"I did access some files of people that I shouldn't have, but if I accessed 105 or more, a lot of those would've had to have been orthopedic patients, which I would've been authorized to do."

She contends she never told anyone else what she saw in those files and she never did anything with the information.

When asked by why she looked at the files, Lawrence said, "Plain and simple, the information was there. So easy."

Lawrence said she resigned in December after everything came to light.

The Capital District Health Authority found dozens more cases of patient files accessed by Lawrence after 15 cases were initially flagged, it announced Tuesday.

The breaches occurred between 2005 and last fall, said spokesman John Gillis.

The organization began an investigation in October after concerns were raised by other hospital staff members. The breach occurred despite policies and systems in place to prevent it, Gillis said.

"We have a number of protections in place, both the expectations that are on our employees and our own policies, the means people have to access records, who has the ability to access records — that all protect the confidentiality of records," Gillis told CBC News.

"If someone is going to disregard policy and access records inappropriately, we can't block that in the end."

In some cases, records were printed, Gillis said. He believes they were destroyed, but said he couldn't be sure.

No charges are expected.

Lawsuit planned

Mary Schinfold, Lawrence's estranged sister-in-law, said she doesn't believe her explanation.

"Because of the things she found out about our personal lives, we feel she has absolutely no right and now it's like she's laughing at us … we feel she should pay restitution," Schinfold told CBC News.

"She should be charged by the police."

Schinfold — who had her file breached — said she and 10 others are planning a lawsuit against the Capital District Health Authority. The group hopes to file its lawsuit by the end of the week.

Schinfold said she doesn't think Lawrence's apology is genuine.

Mary Schinfold, Lawrence's sister-in-law, says she is suing because of the embarrassment she's experienced with having her privacy breached. (CBC)

"We feel from a civil point of view that Capital Health hasn't done due diligence. They were aware that Kathy Zinck Lawrence was looking into our medical files and copying, printing and taking home for years and it has done absolutely nothing to stop it," she said.

Schinfold said she feels she deserves money from a lawsuit for the embarrassment she's experienced. In turn, she wants Lawrence to be ordered to pay the Capital District Health Authority back with what they would have to pay to the group.

The health district issued an apology in a statement Tuesday.

"We apologize to all of those people whose private information was viewed and to the community at large," said Catherine Gaulton, vice-president of performance excellence.

Lawrence said she's not the only employee to access patient files without authorization.

"If Capital Health was to do a full audit on all employees, it'd be hard to find a few that had never at one point or another, that never did this," Lawrence said.

With files from The Canadian Press