The NWT health authority says it is improving privacy and document storage after a report from the privacy commissioner criticized the organization’s safeguards.
The report investigated a 2018 incident where health records were allegedly recovered at the Fort Simpson landfill.
“The incident in Fort Simpson has been a critical event for our organization and we recognize the impact this has had on the trust in our system,” Kim Riles, acting CEO of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA), wrote in an email.
The report alleges someone may have stolen the files from an NTHSSA building in the community.
Elaine Keenan Bengt, NWT information and privacy commissioner, wrote in the report there were “no safeguards in place for the protection of the records being stored in the basement” of the building.
The report also says the chief operating officer (COO) for the Dehcho Region’s Health and Social Services Authority “had no depth of understanding as to his responsibility for the records under his custody and control.”
Keenan Bengt says she believes that few employees with the Dehcho Region’s Health and Social Services Authority, including the COO, have completed even the basic level of privacy training.
In response to the report, Riles says her organization is launching a “special project to look at all current document storage locations and ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for records in our possession.”
“This work is ongoing and examines all physical records storage locations across the NWT and will help us to improve control measures across our operations,” she adds.
The documents, which included personal details on numerous residents across the NWT, may not have been discovered at the dump as previously claimed, the report says.
The RCMP were required to recover the documents from the individual who says he found them at the dump — only referred to as A.B. in the report. Previous media reports, identified the resident as Randal Sibbeston.
“My office delivered a letter to A.B. demanding that he produce and deliver to the RCMP in Fort Simpson all of the records he had in his possession,” Keenan Bengt says in the report.
Sibbeston also alleges in previous media reports there were more documents still at the landfill.
However, Riles says the area was searched immediately after the incident and again in May of 2019 after snow cover had melted — no additional files or documents were recovered.
In the recommendations section, Keenan Bengt says A.B. should be “prosecuted so as to send a clear message to the public that it is not appropriate to disclose found personal health information to the press or to the public, regardless of the circumstances.”
The report includes 15 recommendations in total, most involve improving the NTHSSA’s storage safeguards and privacy training.
Riles says the NTHSSA has accepted 13 of the 15 recommendations, but did not include which these would be.