CORVALLIS, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services has fined Samaritan Health Services in Corvallis for not properly handling patient files.
The Department says a patient at the Samaritan Family Medicine Clinic opened a recycling bin behind the building in July. The person found over 1,000 private documents. Investigators say someone discarded approximately 1,222 files in an unlocked recycling bin that had patient names, addresses, birth dates, and diagnostic information on them. Twenty files had social security numbers printed on the papers.
“It’s a violation – it’s certain information that identity thieves could use to the detriment of those people,” said Diane Childs, the Outreach Coordinator for the Oregon Division of Fiance and Corporate Securities.
Childs says the Department has fined three other organizations in the state. In each scenario, someone had complained about finding private files in a dumpster or a recycling bin. She says this is the first time it has fined a health organization.
“The law says once you obtain that information from, in this case your patients, then you have the responsibility of safeguarding it,” she said. “Especially the social security number.”
Samaritan Health Services says it has fully cooperated with the Division of Finance and Corporate Securities.
“We take this matter very seriously,” said Janelle Iverson, the Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator for Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.
She says Samaritan Health Services has audited the clinics to make sure patients’ information stays private.
“We’ve implemented additional staff trainings in confidential handling and destruction of patient information to insure that this is avoided in the future,” she said.
Childs says the matter can serve as a wake-up call to businesses that might not be shredding private documents. She says under the Oregon Consumer Identity Theft Protection Act, organizations that handle personal information are legally required to keep those documents safe.
“It’s important that businesses, organizations, individuals – anyone out there doing business and asking for personal identifying information – safeguards it,” Childs said. “Because there are identity thieves out there who routinely look in various locations for personal information.”
Childs says identity thieves regularly check dumpsters and recycling areas in the hope of finding personal information.
The Department fined Samaritan Health Services $5,000, but reduced the amount to $1,000 as long as the organization complies with Oregon law for the next five years.