TOGUS — Patient documents inadvertently thrown into the trash at the veteran’s hospital last month were recovered and shredded before being exposed to the public.

Ryan Lilly, associate medical center director at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus, said the hospital went to great lengths, including combing through garbage, to protect patients’ information.

“Really, there were no patients impacted,” Lilly said Tuesday. “The documents in question were never out of our control. There’s no reason to think any patient information was exposed.”

An employee in the center’s housekeeping department was emptying trash into a Dumpster on April 11 when he noticed a bag containing documents from the prosthetic section, according to a release from the medical center. The documents included patient information, it said.

“Generally, anything with sensitive information goes into locked bins that are emptied regularly and shredded on site,” Lilly said. “That process is observed by an employee. It’s something we take very seriously.”

The employee who discovered the documents notified his supervisor, who in turn contacted the center’s privacy officer. The officer retrieved the documents that were visible in the Dumpster, according to the release.

Lilly said that the Dumpster and VA garbage truck were thoroughly searched to make sure no other sensitive material was disposed of.

The truck was locked inside a building to protect it overnight.

The next day five employees, including the privacy officer, two information security officers and environmental staff, went with the garbage truck to the transfer station, where there was more room to spread out the truck’s contents and examine them.

Lilly said that every bag of trash was carefully inspected and documents were brought back to Togus. He said the documents were never out of the VA’s possession.

The VA National Security Operations Center closed the investigation after confirming that no personally identifiable information had been disclosed. Lilly said the fact no more improperly tossed documents were found supports the belief it was an isolated incident.

“It looks like a simple mistake of an employee putting the wrong trash in a bucket,” he said.

Appropriate staff members were provided additional training and Togus incorporated additional monitoring procedures to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Lilly said every Togus employee is trained in how to handle sensitive information.

“In this case the housekeeper was the last line of defense,” he said. “My position is the process worked right this time.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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