Officials: TRMC records are safe

Published 9:41 pm Monday, June 22, 2009

The discovery of numerous medical records in a Montgomery landfill this weekend may have Pike County residents concerned about the safety of their medical records.

But officials with Troy Regional Medical Center say there should be not risk of a similar incident occurring locally.

“There is no risk of a patient medical record ever being compromised at Troy,” said Janet Smith, chief financial officer for TRMC.

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The records from Baptist Medical Center, discovered Saturday morning, were recovered on Monday, said Baptist Medical Center’s Marketing and Communications Director Tommy McKinnon. “The first opportunity we had to get in the landfill was at 6 this morning,” McKinnon said. “After digging through mounds of debris, we feel we were able to retrieve all the files.”

But, McKinnon said files from at least five other health care facilities also had been found in the landfill. Officials have determined the third party responsible for disposing of these records, but McKinnon said he could not release the company’s name at this time, adding only that it is a “local, reputable and widely used company” which disposes of medical records.

“We immediately spoke to the management, and they have taken responsibility,” McKinnon said.

He also said he would not release the names of the medical facilities until all had been contacted.

While the dumping of the medical records was not the fault of the hospital, Smith said patients should be assured TRMC has taken steps to uphold patient privacy.

Smith said records are stored by the hospital for a minimum of 10 years after a patient visit or 21 years if a patient is born in the hospital. “We are required to keep records of infant birth for a minimum of 21 years,” Smith said.

The records are stored in the hospital, in a home health facility in Troy or with a records company in Montgomery, she said. Those stored in the hospital are kept locked in a medical office, where only certain individuals have the password to have access to the room.

Smith said the records kept with Southern Records Management in Montgomery are those that the hospital has little chance of needing to access. “If we do need them, though, we just call them, and they’ll send it to us,” Smith said.

And, when it’s time for those records to be purged, Smith said it is done through a shredding company called Stericycle. “They will shred them or burn them, and whatever they do with the waste is up to them,” Smith said. TRMC records have been purged twice during the past 10 years.

Medical records contain a patient’s name, birth date, address and medical information from the visit. Smith said the records used to include Social Security numbers, but now TRMC uses a patient identification number instead.

She said there is always a chance someone could find a medical record at the nurses station and take it with them, but she said there is no way the hospital would lose hundreds of records, as happened at the Montgomery facility.

“There’s always a risk a medical record could walk out the door. There’s nothing to prevent someone from snatching one from the nurses’ station,” Smith said. “But the risk is minimal, and it would never be rooms full of records.”

Smith said the only times medical records are kept outside of secured storage is while patients are in the hospital, but even then they are kept with a medical professional or at the nurses’ station.

“They are not out in the open on a shelf where someone could walk by and grab it,” Smith said.

TRMC Spokeswoman Karen Herring said the hospital does sometimes transfer patients to other facilities when services needed are not available in Troy, and one of those hospitals is Baptist Medical Center.

“We transfer to UAB, Jackson, wherever the specialty is that particular trauma needs and can accept patients,” Herring said. “They save so many lives every day at Baptist.”