Privacy & Security
Discipline withdrawn against nurses in privacy dispute
January 20, 2016
CALGARY – Disciplinary measures have been dropped against dozens of Alberta Health Services employees in the case of a massive alleged privacy breach in Calgary, although some workers still face sanctions.
In October, AHS announced 48 employees working out of South Health Campus faced disciplinary action, with at least one being fired, for improperly accessing a patient’s information.
However, the United Nurses of Alberta said in its December newsletter that the disciplinary action had been withdrawn against 24 nurses, including one nurse who was terminated.
According to the Calgary Herald, Alberta Health Services confirmed it withdrew or reduced disciplinary action against some employees after further investigation and grievance hearings with UNA and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees found “additional patient privacy education is required for employees.”
“Disciplinary action remains in place for employees who clearly had no professional reason to access patient information,” said the health authority.
AHS would not make anyone available for an interview and would not clarify how many employees remain subject to discipline. AUPE was not immediately available to provide an update on its members.
The nurses union, however, says AHS is withdrawing letters of discipline and removing them from members’ files, reimbursing lost wages, and advising the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta that the discipline has been withdrawn.
UNA president Heather Smith (pictured) said the union believed from the start AHS had overstepped in the measures taken against the employees.
“Both parties decided it was in everybody’s interest to just remove them all,” she told the Herald.
“It’s a combination of being unfounded and improperly handled … there were very serious concerns about the legitimacy (of the accusations.)”
The alleged privacy breach revolved around a Calgary woman with terminal cancer who gave a fatal dose of drugs to her 19-year-old daughter with Down’s syndrome. The mother died in November.
The allegation that AHS employees improperly accessed a patient’s record also prompted an investigation by the province’s information and privacy commissioner, Jill Clayton.
Scott Sibbald, spokesman for the privacy commissioner, said the investigation continues and has no relation to the health board’s decisions around disciplinary action for employees.
But Wildrose health critic Drew Barnes wonders why AHS reversed course on discipline before the privacy commissioner’s report has been completed.
The Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA said there has been a lack of transparency in the case from both AHS and the NDP government. While the initial discipline measures by AHS were announced in a statement by then CEO Vickie Kaminski, there was no notification of the actions being put aside.
He noted that UNA had called for Kaminski to be removed over her handling of the situation. She left AHS voluntarily at roughly the same time the disciplinary measures were dropped.
Barnes said the situation is particularly concerning because Clayton recently warned of a major upswing in privacy breaches by government bodies.
In its statement, AHS said privacy remains a paramount concern.
“This investigation has shown us that we need to more clearly define for employees appropriate practices for accessing patient information,” said AHS vice-president Brenda Huband. “We will launch further education and training to ensure staff understand their obligations.”
NDP Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said in a statement that “Albertans need to be able to have the utmost confidence that healthcare providers use patient information for patient care and breaches like this can erode that confidence.”
“AHS needs to speak to its plans to prevent this from happening again, and to its responsibilities related to the employees involved.”