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Health

NWT learned ‘significant lessons’ from YK dump privacy breach

Last modified: December 15, 2021 at 9:31am


The NWT’s health authority says it has learned “significant lessons” about privacy from its move to the current Stanton Territorial Hospital. 

The authority was responding to a report that documents how a member of the public found more than 60 CDs from the old hospital containing patient information at the Yellowknife dump in July 2019.

They ended up at the solid waste facility during the relocation of Yellowknife’s hospital from its old building to a new, adjacent facility built at a cost of $350 million.

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Elaine Keenan Bengts, NWT privacy commissioner at the time, said the breach was emblematic of longstanding concerns about how sensitive health records are handled.

In August 2020, Keenan Bengts made 27 recommendations in response to the 2019 breach. They included better supervision of item disposal, hiring more records management staff, a switch from paper to electronic records, and discouraging the use of CDs. 

Health authority spokesperson David Maguire this month told Cabin Radio the organization is working to implement many of those recommendations and improve how its records are managed. 

Maguire said 2019’s hospital move was “an unprecedented event in terms of the scale and magnitude.”

Miscommunication and misidentification of materials to be taken to the dump led to the breach, Maguire said.

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He said the authority was “very sorry” for the breach and is working to ensure a similar incident does not occur. 

“We take health privacy seriously and whenever one of these failures happens, it damages trust in our system,” Maguire continued by email.

“We aim to do better and will continue to highlight this across our system as an area of high importance.

“Privacy is a partnership, and everyone – from the health system to other departments, to contractors and service providers – needs to be involved and engaged in ensuring privacy is protected.”

Since the NWT-wide authority was amalgamated from several regional bodies in 2016, Maguire said, it has been updating its operational policies. Improvements to records storage and staff training are expected to be completed in 2022. 

Keenan Bengts’ report also scrutinized the Department of Infrastructure’s management of the old hospital’s decommissioning. One witness said the department did not give health authority staff enough time to ensure the building was thoroughly emptied before changing the locks.

Jennifer Lukas, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, said changing the locks on old facilities the day after a move is standard procedure to prevent unauthorized access.

Lukas said the department had received confirmation from the health authority that all items had been removed from the building before taking control.

“The privacy breach referred to in the report was an unfortunate incident, and one from which we will learn and improve our practices,” Lukas wrote.

The health authority and department said they are working together to develop policies to prevent the future mishandling of sensitive information.

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