Capital Health is instituting new security measures and a Falmouth woman is out of a job for peeking into confidential patient medical records.
Kathy Zinck Lawrence, a former Hants Community Hospital employee, says temptation got the best of her when she had patients’ health records “at her fingertips” while working in various administrative positions for the Capital Health District Authority.
“For 11 years I felt a great sense of pride working for Capital Health and, in just a few days, I threw it all way; threw away a fantastic job, threw away my dignity, my integrity, my pride — everything. I threw it all away because I did something I shouldn’t have done. I had no right to do it,” said Zinck Lawrence in a phone interview with the Hants Journal.
Capital Health spokesperson John Gillis said an audit completed in response to staff concerns found that 15 files had been accessed.
“We take this matter seriously and our priority is to provide information to those people whose files were accessed,” Gillis said.
“These files are currently stored electronically and were accessed in this way. This employee required access as an aspect of her role with Capital Health.”
Gillis said he could not discuss specifics related to disciplinary measures taken with the employee, but said Capital Health is committed to protecting confidential information.
“The Fair Warning audit software was planned to be implemented and will be in place in the near future,” he said.
“This is not a common issue. Capital Health's employees are very much aware of the obligation to keep patients' information confidential and are aware that this is a fundamental aspect of our relationship with our patients. With rare exception, this obligation is respected.”
Zinck Lawrence contacted the Journal to explain her actions. She admits she viewed the health records of about 10 family members and two other patients without authorization while working at the Halifax Infirmary.
“It’s so hard when you see one of their names to not look, to go in and see… what’s wrong rather than ask them,” she said.
“I was wrong to do it and I’m so, so sorry to those patients and my family.” - Kathy Zinck Lawrence
“I don’t have, nor will I ever have, a good excuse for doing that and I felt that I could not go back to work and not do it again.”
She says she submitted her official resignation Jan. 3. A Capital Health representative sent a letter dated Dec. 30 to the patients whose medical files had been accessed.
“I don’t want the general public to feel that their files were looked at without a medical reason,” Zinck Lawrence said of her decision to clarify a few facts.
She says she sent a “heartfelt apology” email to a couple of the patients to let them know she was the employee who snooped.
“I was wrong to do it and I’m so, so sorry to those patients and my family,” she said.
Zinck Lawrence says she is ashamed and embarrassed of her actions and she does not expect the affected patients to forgive her.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was at the beginning of December last year I had to sit my husband down, and each of our four children, and tell them what I had done and see the hurt and disappointment in their eyes. It broke my heart,” Zinck Lawrence said.
“That was my punishment, seeing them suffer for what I did.”
The Hants Journal spoke with one of the alleged victims, who, days after the interview, requested all comments and name not be used “due to family requests and possibly compromising any further investigation.”
A Capital Health spokesperson did not respond as of press time when asked if the district health authority intends to press charges.
As of Jan. 13, Const. Brian Palmeter, of the Halifax Regional Police, said he could not find any information that would suggest criminal charges will be laid in relation to the unauthorized access of health records at the Halifax Infirmary.