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Employee Terminated for Improperly Dumping PHI

An employee of New Jersey-based BioReference Laboratories has been terminated for failing to follow company protocols – and HIPAA Rules – regarding the secure disposal of documents containing the protected health information of patients.

BioReference Laboratories is the third largest full service clinical diagnostic laboratory in the United States, with locations in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Florida, Texas and California. The incident occurred at its facilities in Florida.

Company policies require all sensitive paperwork to be securely shredded prior to disposal, in accordance with HIPAA Rules. However, on March 14, 2017, BioReference Laboratories discovered that documents provided to the employee had been disposed of in a dumpster in Davenport, Florida.

Upon discovery of the incident, BioReference Laboratories launched an investigation and identified the individual responsible. The decision was taken to terminate the employee for the HIPAA breach.

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BioReference Laboratories promptly arranged for the documents to be collected and securely destroyed. While PHI was exposed for a short period of time, no evidence was uncovered to suggest any of the documents had been accessed or removed from the dumpster. However, out of an abundance of caution, BioReference Laboratories is providing credit monitoring services to all patients impacted by the incident for a period of 12 months without charge.

The documents contained a range of highly sensitive PHI including patients’ names, addresses, dates of birth, medical record numbers, insurance information, Social Security numbers, diagnosis codes, details of medical tests that had been ordered.

The investigation revealed this was an isolated incident and steps have now been taken to ensure that future HIPAA breaches of this nature do not occur. BioReference Laboratories has taken the decision to update its safeguards and policies and staff will also be reeducated on the importance of securely destroying documents containing protected health information.

The breach report submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights indicates 1,772 patients have been affected.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.