Medical records discovered in garbage truck, landfill

Among all the trash at the city dump, hundreds of sensitive medical records.
Among all the trash at the city dump, hundreds of sensitive medical records.

Posted by Cody Holyoke - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When Terri Neill and Ricky Holmes dropped off some trash in front of Cramton Bowl on Saturday, they stumbled across some folders.

These folders didn't look like they belonged around a garbage truck.

"There were medical files inside the truck and all over the ground around the truck.  Files with names, numbers, and information," Neill said.

They found folder upon folder, labeled "Radiology Department, Baptist Medical Center, and they were by no means empty.

"They had either x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs. In fact, in the back of [the one I have], there's a copy of the report written by the doctor," Neill explained.

It's all sensitive patient information that was thrown out with your everyday trash.

"It tells me that she's had her hip surgically repaired," said Neill as she read one report.

It doesn't just end at surgery notes.

WSFA 12 News went looking at the city dump.  Hundreds of medical records were out in the open, all with sensitive information.

According to HIPAA, a Federal patient privacy law, hospitals are "not permitted to simply abandon [protected health information] or dispose of it in dumpsters or other containers that are accessible by the public or other unauthorized persons."

Patients say it's also a violation of trust.

"I don't need my social security number or my address information or any of that type stolen," said Ricky Holmes, who also found the records.

"My son's been a patient at Baptist.  I've been a patient at Baptist.  I hate to think that my records are laying in the landfill for anybody," Neill said.

It's not clear if Baptist Health is to blame for all this, since the hospital does use a third party to dispose of some its records.

A hospital spokesman says he was shocked by the find, saying in a statement, "The discovery of files at the landfill over the weekend is a serious concern. We will launch a formal investigation into the matter once the records are obtained [...]."

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