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Manager: Dumpsters where medical records were found aren't private place

By Rebecca Hanlon, York Daily Record, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 21--When a retired doctor cleaned out his Springettsbury Township office, he gathered a career's worth of medical files -- weighing about 7 tons -- and took several trips to dispose them.

Dr. R. Dale McCormick of the York Academy of Surgery said he took them to the York County Solid Waste Authority incinerator dumpsters in Manchester Township over a period of months and weeks.

What he used was a public dumpster accessible to hundreds of people who might stop by any given day, said Ellen O'Connor, manager of the community services division.

McCormick, of York Township, said he "took every precaution" in securing the files so that nothing would fall out on his trips to the dumpsters.

"We threw them in (the dumpsters)," he said of the records, some of which were found lying on the ground Memorial Day weekend by another dumpster user. "How they would've gotten out of there, I have no idea. Totally impossible."

Four red dumpsters that stand seven feet deep are available to the general public for people to dump old building materials, junk from their garages, or whatever else they choose, O'Connor said.

Customers enter the public site off of Black Bridge Road, and their vehicles are weighed at the entrance. They proceed up the hill and around the corner to the top of the dumpsters where they can dump their loads.

When they exit, they are weighed again, O'Connor said, and pay a fee for the weight difference.

If McCormick filled a dumpster, which is likely based on what appeared in a submitted photo, O'Connor said, all a person would have to do to grab a file is bend over.

And what often happens, is people over-throw the length of the dumpster, and debris ends up on the ground on the other side. Walk around the corner, and you can pick it up.

But the waste authority also has rules against removing anything from the site, O'Connor said. So, when Stanley Hill removed the files he found on the ground, he violated that rule.

The Shrewbury Township man has said he did that to protect the files, knowing they contained private information.

"It's not a secure area for private items," O'Connor said. "We have different ways for people to get rid of items of that nature."

The waste authority has a confidential destruction program with most medical offices. In those cases, a representative from the office brings the files and either tosses them in the incinerator themselves, or watches someone do it, and then gets a certificate of their destruction.

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A Shrewsbury Township man said he found medical records containing personal information at a public dumpster at the York County Solid Waste Authority incinerator in Manchester Township during the Memorial Day weekend.

Stanley Hill gathered 47 files that were on the ground. He said many more were in the dumpster. He said he wanted to protect the files and alert the public.

He handed them over to the York Daily Record. The newsroom contacted the Department of State, which requested the files. The Daily Record gave them to the department, which has begun investigating.

Dr. R. Dale McCormick said he had deposited the records in the dumpster and has "no idea" how some ended up on the ground. He met with investigators Wednesday.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the medical records found at a public dumpster, the Pennsylvania Department of State advises you to call its hotline: 1-800-822-2113.

The Department of State has been referring concerned former patients to fill out a complaint form here.

Reports also can be made to HIPAA at 1-800-447-8477.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is better known as HIPAA.

The act was created to find a balance that permits important uses of information while protecting the privacy of people who seek care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Medical providers, health insurance companies and hospitals are responsible under HIPAA to protect patient information in electronic, paper or oral form.

That includes the "individual's past, present or future physical or mental health or condition; the provision of health care to the individual, or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual," according to the department.

For more information on the enforcement of HIPAA, visit the department website

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Read the original story here.

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(c)2014 York Daily Record (York, Pa.)

Visit York Daily Record (York, Pa.) at www.ydr.com

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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