News

Island Health offers apologies over privacy breach

Island Health is apologizing for a breach of privacy that put personal information of its clients up for sale at a local thrift shop.

The NEWS broke the story of the breach in its Thursday edition. A local woman purchased file dividers at the Parksville SOS Thrift Store which had tabs containing the names, addresses, phone numbers and provincial health numbers of Island Health clients. The dividers were for sale for 10 cents each.

Local woman Denise Whitson said she ripped the four tabs she had from her purchases at the SOS and mailed them to the clients. Island Health said Monday they say they retrieved from the RCMP two more of the dividers containing the same personal data.

"We have contacted both of these individuals to inform them of this situation," Island Health's Val Wilson said Monday. "We made a mistake and we have apologized to both of these individuals."

Wilson said Island Health believes the information got loose during the move of some community programs to the Oceanside Health Centre. Island Health programs scattered throughout the region were moved into the OHC when the facility opened in Parksville in June of last year.

"Our Privacy Office is working with our clinical partners in Oceanside to determine how this happened," said Wilson. "There are ideal processes that should be followed and that clearly did not happen here. Everyone does their best. It is a human system and thus not infallible."

Island Health was unable to tell The NEWS how many clients may have had their personal information scattered in this manner.

“We have visited the SOS thrift store to ensure no additional materials that may contain confidential information were at the store,” she said.

Wilson said Island Health (formerly called VIHA) hopes to learn through this incident what it can do to better protect the personal information of clients.

“We take the privacy and safeguarding of personal information of our clients extremely seriously,” said Wilson. “We are reviewing all of our processes related to the move to identify where there was a breakdown in processes used to safeguard our valued patient information. A part of the investigation will be to identify what improvements can be made in our processes and what we can learn from this incident.”

Whitson confirmed Monday morning she mailed the tabs.

“We also encouraged her (Whitson) to provide the information contained on the tabs directly to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), given she is not comfortable providing it to Island Health,” said Wilson. “We have notified the OIPC who are pleased to accept the information from this individual.”

Island Health’s privacy office can be reached at 250-519-1870 or toll free at 1-877-748-2290 or by e-mail at privacy@viha.ca.

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