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'Still unclear' how medical records reached Fort Simpson dump

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The NWT's information and privacy commissioner says there are still no answers as to how sensitive medical records apparently ended up at Fort Simpson's dump.

A local resident brought the records to the CBC's attention in December. They are said to have been first discovered at the dump a month earlier.

On Tuesday, briefing MLAs at a committee meeting, privacy commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts said there remained "a lot of work to be done" to understand what had happened.

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Keenan Bengts said a territorial government investigation into the incident was only just beginning. The territory did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It is still unclear where the records originated or who had custody and control of them, or, for that matter, how they ended up in the dump," Keenan Bengts told MLAs.

"There is a lot of work to be done to identify where those records came from and how they found their way to the dump."

Keenan Bengts said she is awaiting an investigation report from the territorial government, adding: "It will take some time for them to do it, because I know it’s only really starting today."

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News of the documents' apparent abandonment was first reported on December 14.

The NWT’s health authority later said an examination of the records showed 134 people were affected.

Many of the records are said to date from the 1990s, though some were dated as late as 2010.

The health authority has asked anyone with information about how the breach happened to come forward and contact either the authority or the information and privacy commissioner.

'I have seen improvement'

Keenan Bengts was addressing a committee meeting held to review her 2017-18 report to the legislature, and she fielded a range of more general questions about privacy from MLAs.

Despite the Fort Simpson incident and the earlier theft of a laptop containing patients' information from a car in Ottawa, Keenan Bengts professed herself broadly satisfied with the health department's progress on privacy.

"I am actually pleased with the direction being taken by both the department and health authority to address privacy concerns, and I have seen improvement," she said.

In full: Information and privacy commissioner's 2017-18 report

Her office's 2017-18 report shows the number of files generated under the Health Information Act rose from eight to 33 year-on-year.

"I consider the increased number of reports a positive development – it suggests staff are now recognizing breaches when they occur [and] taking steps to effect changes," said Keenan Bengts.

"In most breaches reported, the breach has been quickly discovered and addressed.

"I am, overall, much more satisfied with the way issues are being dealt with. The level of awareness is definitely up. However, work remains to be done."

Keenan Bengts also cautioned that some areas of the territorial government were proving less inclined to accept her recommendations than in the past, though she stopped short of labelling the shift a serious concern.

She also reiterated previously reported fears that the healthcare profession's reliance on fax machines was generating too many privacy issues. Her office is expected to produce a report on the use of older technology, and adoption of newer technology, in the coming month.

"It is nationwide. For some reason, the medical profession is reluctant to adopt more secure technology," she told MLAs.

"One of the issues, particularly in the North, is always connectivity. In the smaller communities, the internet is not always as reliable as it could be.

"The biggest problem is the profession itself. If you can convince senior nurses and doctors that it’s just as easy to send an encrypted email as it is to stand up, walk to the fax machine, put it on the machine, send it, sit back down… you’ve got it made."