Saskatoon

Sask. Health Authority accidentally outs employees in email about proof-of-vaccination program

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is apologizing for a widely distributed internal email that identified hundreds of employees by name who may not have disclosed their COVID-19 vaccination status by a stated deadline.

Health authority apologizes to employees, says no personal health information was leaked

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is the operational arm of the province's health-care system. It has required that its employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or get regular testing. (Trevor Bothorel/Radio-Canada)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is apologizing for sending out a widely distributed internal email Thursday that identified hundreds of employees by name who may not have disclosed their COVID-19 vaccination status by a stated deadline.

CBC News obtained a copy of the email, which was sent to 497 people. It appears to be part of a larger list, as it was sent only to people with last names starting with "B" or "C."

"Your employee ID was not matched with a record of a submitted self-declaration stating your COVID-19 vaccination status," the email stated. "If you completed the declaration by the October 15, 2021, deadline, please disregard this email."

The health authority is among several groups, including the Saskatchewan government and Crown corporations, that announced their workers are required to provide proof of vaccination or else face regular testing for COVID-19.

"The Saskatchewan Health Authority apologizes to our employees whose names were inadvertently revealed in an email sent this week," the SHA said in an emailed statement to CBC News on Friday.

"The email was sent to all employees who did not have their employee ID number match a self-declaration stating their COVID-19 vaccination status.... Please note this email is about the submission of the declaration, and does not provide any personal health information, including vaccine status."

The health authority said it's reviewing its process to ensure this type of email is sent more discreetly in the future.

SHA employees were to self-declare their vaccination status by Oct. 15 and then actually provide their proof of vaccination by early November, or else face regular testing. 

Some IDs submitted did not match current employees, the health authority said in its statement.

"We are not able to determine if that was an entry error. Any employee whose ID was not included is being sent the same email."

Union wants direct apology to employees

Barbara Cape, the president of SEIU-West, a union representing Saskatchewan Health Authority health-care workers, called the email "incredibly unfortunate."

"It's not hard to send a blind carbon-copied email. However this distribution was disturbing," Cape said in an emailed statement to CBC News. "In health care, we talk continuously about the importance of maintaining private information and communications.

"Whether this was an oversight or something else is matter on which we would ask the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to weigh in. An apology from SHA to the staff impacted is in order."

As of last Friday, the health authority had received just over 40,000 self-declarations, including a small number from students and volunteers, according to Derek Miller, the authority's head of emergency operations. The organization has about 44,000 employees in total.

About 98 per cent of the more than 40,000 people who submitted their self-declarations said: "they are or will be fully immunized by early November," Miller said.

One per cent said they would enrol in the weekly testing program, while the remaining one per cent indicated they will be seeking approval for medical or religious accommodation, Miller said. 

More precise take-up data on physicians was shared among doctors attending a virtual Saskatchewan Health Authority town hall on Thursday.

Out of 2,702 physicians, 2,118 are fully vaccinated. Fifty-four are partially vaccinated, while the remaining 530 are either unvaccinated or their status isn't known. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa from Cornwall, Ontario

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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