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Sun Country slammed again, Pharmaceutical records breached

Negative news continued to flow from the Sun Country Health Region's head office this week with the revelation that 66 patients had their privacy rights breached by a staff member in the region's head office in Weyburn.

Negative news continued to flow from the Sun Country Health Region's head office this week with the revelation that 66 patients had their privacy rights breached by a staff member in the region's head office in Weyburn.

SCHR discovered in June 2010 that one employee improperly reviewed the electronic prescription records of these patients between March 2009 and January 2010.

The region launched an extensive investigation to determine the facts behind these incidents and is preparing a report for the Gary Dickson, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Saskatchewan.

Marga Cugnet, interim chief executive officer for Sun Country, told The Mercury Tuesday morning the name of the employee who breached the system to gain the information will not be released at this time. She said it is part of the Sun Country policy to not name the violater who, she said, "might have some rights under the Freedom of Information Act."

In the meantime, apology letters have gone out to the 66 patients whose health care records had been compromised.

Sun Country said the employee has been disciplined, but the nature or extent of the discipline is also not being revealed.

When asked if the discipline was somewhere between a wrist slapping to termination of employment, Cugnet said "yes, but the employee was not terminated."

She added that the discipline was meted out after Sun Country reviewed the processes and similar instances of privacy breaches around the province that provided them with a precedent disciplinary model to follow.
She did not elaborate as to whether that was a loss of pay a suspension or both. The police were not involved in the extensive investigation, she said, so no charges have been laid as yet, although Dickson will review the report and may make further suggestions regarding further action.

The records were accessed through the Pharmaceutical Information Program (PIP) which is an electronic system of prescription records that are normally accessed only by authorized health care providers to use when providing care to clients, such as doctors, nurses or pharmacists.

Cugnet said the investigation revealed that the person making the breach did so on a systematic basis, so access was not made coincidentally or by accident.

The interim CEO said Sun Country is setting up a routine audit procedure that will enable them to pick up any potential breaches in the future much more quickly.

She said the investigative team consisted of representatives from Sun Country's human resources department, their own privacy officer, staff manager, Sun Country's health records and pharmacy departments.

The report that will be reviewed by Dickson is nearing completion, Cugnet said.

In a prepared press release issued Jan. 31, Sun Country said the system has a built-in method of allowing employers to watch for possible inappropriate use and SCHR can determine which of its employees looks for information about what patients, when and why.

When an information search is inappropriate, it is seen to be in violation of the Saskatchewan Health Information Protection Act.

As soon as the breach was discovered, SCHR immediately disabled the electronic account of the individual who committed the breach and began investigating. The person in question remains disqualified from accessing any further information online.

Besides the unreported disciplinary action taken against the staff member, who Cugnet said, had been in their employ for about two or three years, the health region's privacy policies and related staff education procedures are being reviewed.

"SCHR sincerely apologizes for any difficulties this incident may cause these patients or their families," they said in the release.

Cugnet added that "we want to assure the public that we take this matter very seriously especially as we move forward with the plan to keep more records electronically."

SCHR said in the release that the protection of personal health information was a matter of utmost importance and they were confident the steps being taken will reduce the risk of such an incident occurring in the future.

Sun Country has been the focus of negative news over the past year following the revelation that a former financial vice-president had departed after it was revealed he had misrepresented his credentials and had participated in some questionable financial dealings in previous health care centres.

That issue and other concerns later led to the dismissal of the chief executive officer while the health region continued to operate within a swirl of negative publicity surrounding their decision to close long-term care beds in Wawota plus the ongoing dilemma being faced with a severe shortage of physicians to serve the region.

On top of that, the provincial auditor's report singled out Sun Country for a couple of breaches of protocol dealing with electronic record keeping (not associated with the pharmaceutical record keeping) and careless accounting practices in relation to corporate credit cards and lack of policy or protocol regarding transportation and moving expenses.

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