Children's medical records found in Dumpster to be shredded

POSTED: 06:26 PM MST Dec 19, 2012    UPDATED: 04:31 PM MST Dec 20, 2012 
AMMON, Idaho -

A man is questioning just how safe our medical records are, after he found volumes of records in the Dumpster behind his workplace.

State officials were shredding the documents Thursday.

Wes Dustin doesn't want to share where he works, but he does want to share what he found there when he went to take out the trash.

"Boxes," Dustin explained.  "Looked like records or something."

Dustin found seven boxes and a garbage bag packed with children's medical records from a place called The Children's Center.

"Names, addresses, Social Security numbers, date of birth," Dustin listed.

He also found billing and payroll information in the boxes.

Idaho law says doctors need to keep a patient's records on file for at least five years.  The files Dustin found are mostly seven or eight years old.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act specifically forbids Dumpsters from medical record disposal.  The law requires trained professionals to destroy records, making them "essentially unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

We tried to figure out how the documents made it into the Dumpster.

The phone number listed for The Children's Center on the records reached a doctor's voicemail.

The address listed on the files belongs to a practice that was founded in 2007. Many of the files in the trash were from 2005.

The old Children's Center is next door to that practice, but it closed more than a year ago.

The lawyer for The Children's Center said, last he heard, those records were in the Grand Teton Storage facility, next to the Dumpster where they were found.

According to Grand Teton Storage, the company that managed The Children's Center wasn't paying its bill.  In accordance with its policy, Grand Teton Storage had to auction the contents of the unit off.

When it came to those sensitive records, a Grand Teton Storage employee said, "We contacted state officials and acted in accordance to their rules."

As Dustin found out, things didn't go totally according to plan.

"Somebody needs to know the information is not being disposed of properly," Dustin said.

The Grand Teton Storage employee said management knows who threw the records away, and disciplinary action will be taken against that person.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has taken custody of the records. IDHW Spokesman Tom Shanahan said the federal government has begun to shred the documents. That process was expected to be complete by Thursday night or Friday morning.