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Island Health investigating privacy breach

Denise Whitson with one of the file dividers she bought for 10 cents at the Parksville SOS Thrift Store. Printed on some of the dividers’ white tabs were the names, dates of birth, addresses and provincial health numbers of local people. The tab’s plastic covering and the camera’s flash have made the text on the tab above unreadable. - JOHN HARDING PHOTO
Denise Whitson with one of the file dividers she bought for 10 cents at the Parksville SOS Thrift Store. Printed on some of the dividers’ white tabs were the names, dates of birth, addresses and provincial health numbers of local people. The tab’s plastic covering and the camera’s flash have made the text on the tab above unreadable.
— image credit: JOHN HARDING PHOTO

One never knows what one will find for sale in the SOS Thrift Store.

The personal information of someone who has sought medical help isn't something one would expect to be for sale, however. Denise Whitson was in the Parksville SOS Thrift Store last weekend, looking for some office supplies. The Qualicum Beach resident is a volunteer with the 4-H Club and she also does some tax returns. She found a box on the floor that offered file folders — the dividers that hang in file cabinets — for 10 cents apiece. She grabbed a few and was shocked when she read the tabs on the dividers.

Printed on the tabs were the names, dates of birth, phone numbers, addresses, medical record numbers and provincial health numbers of local people.

“I guess I was so shocked to find people’s personal information just sitting there,” said Whitson. “I was thinking how many hands these would have gone through to get on the (thrift store) floor. I have friends in the medical profession — they sign forms related to confidentiality.”

Whitson pulled the tabs off the dividers (“it doesn’t even take a second”) and said she is mailing them to the people listed on the tabs with a note saying she has not shared any of their personal information with anyone else. The NEWS did see one of the dividers with the tabs but did not write down the personal information of the person listed.

“I have told them their information will not get in the hands of anyone else,” said Whitson. “But I don’t know if anyone else saw them (before her).”

One of the dividers also had a sticky note affixed to it that said: “Please chart on (a person’s first name).” Whitson said another had a sheet inside with some procedural protocol for dealing with mental health patients which had a VIHA logo on it but did not contain anyone’s personal information.

Whitson said she places no fault at the hands of the SOS.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the SOS,” she said. “They support families so they can participate in our (4-H) programs. My emphasis is about the origin of this, not about someone in the back of (the thrift store), inundated with donations, putting this on the floor.”

Island Health (formerly known as VIHA), issued this statement via e-mail Wednesday morning through its communications department’s Valerie Wilson:

“As we have not seen the materials as you have described, at this point I can’t say whether or not these materials originated with Island Health,” Wilson wrote. “I can say that we take the privacy and safeguarding of personal information entrusted to us by our clients extremely seriously. In the absence of further details regarding their origin and because we are concerned about safeguarding client information regardless of where it originated, we will be contacting the Society of Organized Services today to see if we can determine how these materials found their way to the SOS and if they have further information that may assist us in identifying what organization is accountable for these materials. We also want to determine if any additional materials that may contain confidential information are at the SOS and if so,  we will make immediate  arrangements to secure them.”

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