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Hamilton Health Sciences employees terminated after privacy breach

Don Mitchell / Global News

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says eight employees have been terminated after a privacy breach in which the personal information of thousands of patients was “inappropriately accessed.”

In a news release Monday, HHS said it had “completed an investigation in to a privacy breach involving eight employees who inappropriately accessed the personal health information of approximately 4,000 patients.”

The hospital system said there is “no evidence” to suggest patient’s health information was printed, downloaded or electronically shared with anyone.

“We have concluded that these were snooping cases,” the release read. “HHS deems these actions unacceptable and has terminated all eight employees involved.”

According to HHS, it has issued letters to patients that were affected, and has notified the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

The HHS has also notified the former employee’s regulatory colleges “where applicable.”

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Aaron Levo, the vice-president of people, culture and communications at HHS, told Global News the investigation concluded this was “purely a case of snooping,” but said it is “totally unacceptable.”

“We’re really upset,” he said. “And we know that the patients and families that have been impacted we’re going to have to work hard to earn back their trust. It’s a really unfortunate day for us.”

According to Levo, the incident has not been reported to police.

Levo said the employees worked in different roles, and are not believed to have worked together.

“There were health-care workers as well as clerical workers,” he explained. “And at different points in their career at the hospital. They did not appear to be a relationship or working in concert, this was individuals who unfortunately broke the rules at our hospital.”

According to HHS, there are a number of policies, systems and processes in place to prevent privacy breaches.

These include privacy training during onboarding for all staff, routine and random audits of access to patient information and ongoing reviews to hospital systems and information-sharing practices.

The HHS said its staff, physicians and learners are “expected to adhere to these policies, the requirements of their regulatory colleges and provincial privacy legislation.”

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Levo said the HHS is “taking steps” to notify everyone impacted “to let them know exactly, in a transparent way, what we are doing as an organization to earn back their trust, to issue an apology, but also to offer an opportunity through a dedicated phone line for them to contact us with questions they may have.”

Those who receive a letter can call the hospital at 905-521-21900 extension 77488.

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