Medical records alleged to have been found at Fort Simpson’s dump have now been handed over to police, the NWT’s health authority said on Saturday.
A local resident held on to the files for a month before working with CBC News to publish a report outlining how medical records dating back to the 1990s had been apparently abandoned at the landfill.
The records are being transported to Yellowknife, where RCMP will pass them on to the territory’s information and privacy commissioner.
There remains no firm information as to the exact contents of the documents, which CBC acknowledged it could not independently verify at the time of its report – though the broadcaster described viewing records related to mental health conditions and drug use.
On Friday, a social worker and mental health professional who regularly works with Fort Simpson clients said the breach would be “devastating for trust” not only in the community, but more broadly across the territory.
NWT Health and Social Services Authority chief executive Sue Cullen, in a statement on Saturday, called the documents’ discovery “a disturbing and evolving situation.”
“Now that the files are in secure possession, we will be working hard to identify their source, understand how this situation developed, and take all action necessary to notify individuals whose private information has been breached,” said Cullen.
“We commit to providing the public with updates as more information becomes available regarding what has happened and our plan for addressing it.”
How the files found a home at the Fort Simpson dump remains unclear. The health authority said it was investigating, while also ensuring “secure file practices are in place” locally.
Discovery and delays
If you are concerned that your information may be among the records, the health authority says it will work with the information and privacy commissioner “to determine who may be impacted and to begin notifying any individuals whose health records were breached.”
Earlier, the authority told residents they may contact Sarah Day, the Dehcho’s manager of mental health and addictions, for information – though little detail will be available until the authority can begin to thoroughly examine the documents.
A further line of inquiry for the authority will be how it did not come to know about the documents sooner.
In particular, the resident who found the documents – named by CBC as Randal Sibbeston – is likely to be asked why he did not turn them over to police or the health authority immediately on their discovery.
Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson told Cabin Radio he had been contacted by Sibbeston in early November regarding the documents, and had urged Sibbeston to contact the health authority’s regional staff.
Though Thompson says Sibbeston refused to show him the documents, it appears the MLA did not notify the health authority or health department of the exchange at the time.
Cabin Radio has been unable to reach Sibbeston for comment.
On Friday, Thompson said: “It’s very sad that we see these at the dump, and I apologize to the residents of Nahendeh for that.” He also praised the department and health authority for the speed of its response, once it was notified of the issue by CBC.