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VA cops investigated for privacy violation

ST. PETERSBURG — The door was supposed to be locked. It wasn't. Two officers patrolling the Bay Pines VA Medical Center stepped inside.

They found a stack of papers that should have been locked away. Some contained private patient information — Social Security numbers, treatment information, patient addresses.

To figure out who could be so careless, VA investigators are starting with Bay Pine's police force.

That open door led into its offices.

The privacy officer at the nation's fourth-busiest veterans hospital is investigating how up to 800 police reports were left in an area where the public might have had access, Bay Pines confirmed on Tuesday.

The documents were found on April 6 at about 7:30 p.m. One of the officers who found them, Russell Houle, immediately reported it to superiors. The incident also was reported to the Veterans Affairs Department, a Bay Pines spokeswoman said.

"Normally these records are kept in a locked office," said spokeswoman Faith Belcher. "Somebody removed them. … There is no indication anybody rifled through them."

Safeguarding patient information has been a priority at the VA after embarrassing national incidents through the years, from the theft of computers with patient information to numerous veteran complaints of files that disappear.

Through VA history, confidential papers have been found above ceiling tiles, in closets, curbside trash at a VA lawyer's home, and once at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

None of those incidents involved Bay Pines.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

VA cops investigated for privacy violation 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 10:41pm]
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