KANSAS CITY, Mo. - At least several dozen, but possibly hundreds, of confidential medical records were scattered to the winds outside Research Hospital on Monday afternoon, potentially exposing the personal and medical information of scores of former patients of Midwest Women’s Healthcare.
A man driving in the neighborhood near 63rd and Prospect Avenue late Monday morning noticed several pink sheets of paper fluttering in the wind. He stopped to examine one and found it was a medical record from Midwest Women’s Healthcare Specialists. Tracing the pink sheets back towards the hospital, he discovered a crew dumping the papers into an open-topped dumpster on the hospital’s north side.
The wind carried many away, the observer said, and the trash crew continued.
“I saw people putting things in the dumpster and it was clearly blowing away,” the man said. “They obviously didn't care. Turned their back and walked away.”
The man collected some 70 patient records and provided them to 41 Action News. He estimated five times as many blew away before he could gather them, with an unknown number scattered before he arrived. He asked for anonymity to discuss what he found on-camera.
“There's patient name, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, the medical facility, doctor’s name, patient’s address, patient’s phone number,” he said. “All sensitive information no one would want floating in the wind.”
"At Midwest Women's Healthcare maintaining patient privacy is our top priority,” a spokesperson for the organization told 41 Action News. “We are aggressively investigating this issue and will take appropriate action based on our findings."
At 7 p.m. Monday, hospital security guards were combing through the dumpster, collecting by the fistful remaining documents that had not blown out.
Of the records examined by 41 Action News, most are of appointments made between August and September of 2011. All the patients are women. Their names, phone numbers, home addresses and social security numbers are clearly legible, as are the reasons for their visit.
To determine whether the documents were real, 41 Action News contacted several of the women by phone. One met with a reporter in person to review the record of a prenatal exam she had before delivering her son. She said knowing her personal medical information was so thoroughly exposed made her feel “violated.”
“There are lots of laws, HIPAA laws, you sign away everything and I have to give permission for my husband to have this information, but now some random guy has it,” she said, referring to the man who discovered the records outside Research. “It’s really uncomfortable.”
“I want to know why they didn't go through the proper process of shredding, properly shredding and disposing of the information,” said the woman, who asked 41 Action News not to reveal her identity given the sensitive nature of the documents involved. “You put a lot of time and research into where you're going to deliver your baby and I never thought that this part would be something I would have to worry about.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Midwest Women's Healthcare issued the following statement:
At Midwest Women's Healthcare we take patient privacy very seriously. We continue to thoroughly investigate this issue and will take appropriate action based on our findings. Midwest Women’s Healthcare is in the process of determining which patients may have been affected and intends to notify them as soon as possible.
Local attorneys say the hospital could be on the hook for millions of dollars in fines for violation patient privacy laws.