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  • Rouge Valley hospital clerk charged with misusing confidential patients records

    A Scarborough hospital employee alleged to have sold the confidential medical records of birthing mothers to financial companies has been charged with selling securities without a licence.

    Shaida Bandali, a former clerk at Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital, was charged by the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) with the “quasi-criminal” offence of “misusing” as many as 8,300 records, mostly of mothers who gave birth between 2009 and 2013. It’s the first time anyone has been charged in relation to a slew of privacy breaches revealed over recent months at numerous hospitals in the GTA.

    Bandali, who has not been charged criminally, faces a penalty of up to five years less a day in jail, a fine of up to $5 million or some combination of the two. She is slated to appear in court on Dec. 12.

    “It’s kind of disturbing that (the company) knew so much information about (my child). They knew a lot of things that they shouldn’t have,” said Bryan Burleigh, whose wife was contacted by a saleswoman only days after giving birth.

    “I recently got contacted by another insurance company, so I don’t know if my information was sold to other companies,” he said. “I don’t understand how they would get it, because I don’t have insurance or anything else with that company.”

    Bandali’s charges stem from “repeatedly breaching the confidentiality policies of her employer, the Rouge Valley Hospital, by accessing, copying or distributing confidential personal data of maternity patients to one or more Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) dealer representatives,” the OSC said in a statement released Monday.

    She is accused of creating investor lists from the stolen records of new mothers, providing them to RESP dealers and receiving payment for this without informing the hospital or the patients, according to the OSC.

    When Rouge Valley Hospital discovered the records had been compromised, it sent out letters to the thousands of patients involved and alerted the OSC and the Ontario Privacy Commissioner. But the hospital contacted police only after the Star exposed the mass privacy breach.

    Toronto police spokesperson Const. Jeniffer Sidhu confirmed Monday that Bandali wasn’t currently being investigated.

    Last month, the Star revealed that more than 400 health-related privacy violation complaints are lodged each year with the provincial Information and Privacy Commission. But because hospitals are not legally obliged to notify authorities, that total may not include thousands of violations that go unreported every year.

    Even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has fallen victim to a hospital privacy breach. His medical records were inappropriately accessed on two separate occasions after he started receiving treatment for cancer this fall.

    Acting Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish said there should be stiffer penalties for health professionals who break patient confidentiality, after the Star reported that employees at six hospitals in the GTA gave patient information to baby photographers who paid for access to maternity wards.

    Beamish declined to comment on the OSC charges Monday, saying his office’s independent investigation continues. He expects to release the findings next month, Beamish said in a statement emailed to the Star.

    While it did identify Bandali for the first time, the OSC wouldn’t name the financial institutions involved, nor the second employee the hospital says was involved in selling patient records. Their investigation continues, said spokesperson Kristen Rose.

    Lawyer Michael Crystal, who has filed a $412-million class-action lawsuit on behalf of the patients whose privacy was breached, welcomed the securities charges, saying they would help the patients identify the employees and financial companies involved in the scheme.

    “At this point in time, we’re very limited in what we can say, but we’re very encouraged by the securities commission investigation … and we’re hoping to be able to fill in the blanks in our pleadings,” Crystal said.

    Rouge Valley Health Systems spokesperson David Brazeau would not comment on the charges, nor on whether there’s been any follow-up since the privacy breach came to light in June.

    Hospital management first became aware of the leak in October 2013. A second employee’s involvement was uncovered after an internal investigation in March 2014. Since then, the hospital has instituted an internal system to track which employees access patient files.

  • Stephen Harper boasts of $5.8 billion in infrastructure spending

    OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Ottawa is earmarking $5.8 billion over three years for spending on aboriginal reserves, as well as museums, research centres, parks and other federally-owned infrastructure across Canada.

    Harper has been announcing budget-type spending and tax cuts in recent weeks as the federal government is on the verge of ending years of budget deficits.

    “In a very real sense, Canada’s federal infrastructure creates jobs,” Harper said during a campaign-style event in London, Ont.

    Of the $5.8 billion total, $500 million for refurbishing and building on-reserve schools has been announced in previous federal budgets. The other $5.3 billion of funding — some of which appears to have been previously announced — will go to border facilities, airports, rail services, small craft harbours and shipbuilding yards, Harper said.

    Ottawa will also spend to modernize federal laboratories and research centres and upgrade national defence and RCMP facilities, as well as investing in restoration efforts at national historic sites and in improvements at museums, parks and marine conservation areas.

    The government had previously committed $53 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, but opposition MPs and the province of Ontario have complained that this commitment, when broken down year-by-year, is inadequate.

    The NDP has been urging the federal government to invest more on infrastructure to boost the economy and reduce unemployment.

    “The criticisms are hurting,” NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen said in response to Harper’s announcement on Monday.

    Cullen questioned whether, with an election looming, the Harper government is promising to spend money it may never have. Finance Minister Joe Oliver is predicting $31 billion in budget surpluses over the next five years. In recent weeks, the Conservatives have announced nearly $30 billion in new spending and tax cuts over the same period.

    Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale said a lot of the money referred to Monday by Harper has been previously announced. “It’s a rebundling and reorganization of existing funding,” he said. “I think they (the Conservatives) were feeling the heat for not having much in the window in terms of infrastructure.”

    Ontario economic development minister Brad Duguid said the province was pleased by the announcement but was “disappointed to see no additional funding for important provincial and territorial projects across Canada.

    “As we have consistently said, the federal government is falling behind in infrastructure investments while provinces and territories are picking up the slack,” he said. “There remains a number of areas in which we continue to look to the federal government to match Ontario’s funding commitments, including our $1-billion commitment to the Ring of Fire (mining development), investments in transit and social housing, and we will continue to call on the federal government to close this funding gap.”

    With files from Rob Benzie

  • Decision in Ferguson police shooting expected today

    St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch is set to make an announcement later Monday regarding the grand jury reviewing evidence in the Ferguson police shooting death of Michael Brown.

    A lawyer for Michael Brown's family says they have been notified that the grand jury has made a decision, and attorney Benjamin Crump told The Associated Press it will be announced after 5 p.m.

    The grand jury has been considering possible charges against Darren Wilson, the white suburban St. Louis officer who fatally shot the black 18-year-old after a confrontation in August.

    Barring discovery of additional relevant evidence, McCulloch has said he won’t bring charges or resubmit the case to another grand jury if Wilson isn’t indicted.

    Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, 28, killed Brown, 18, in a street encounter on Aug. 9, firing at least six shots and triggering days of sometimes violent protests, looting and a police response that was criticized as militaristic. Some eyewitnesses said Brown was shot while raising his hands in surrender. Police said he attacked Wilson while the officer was in his patrol car.

    Protests have been staged in Ferguson almost every night over the past few weeks, and demonstrations are planned across the country when the grand jury’s decision is made public.

    The Ferguson shooting jury could effectively deadlock by being unable to come to a consensus, said Clayton, Mo., criminal defence attorney Arthur Margulis.

    Margulis, who isn’t involved in the case, said potential crimes the grand jury has likely been considering include second-degree murder by knowingly causing a person’s death, or causing death while intending to cause serious injury; voluntary manslaughter arising from sudden passion; first-degree involuntary manslaughter for recklessly causing a death, or second-degree involuntary manslaughter for acting with criminal negligence to cause a death.

    The grand jury began hearing evidence Aug. 20. Secrecy has surrounded almost every aspect of the deliberations.

    Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has mobilized National Guard troops to support local law enforcement agencies if there is unrest after the decision.

    Nixon spokesman Scott Holste confirmed Monday that the governor is travelling to St. Louis from the Capitol.

    McCulloch’s office hasn’t divulged when or where the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks meets in Clayton, the seat of St. Louis County, which doesn’t include the city of the same name.

    The identities of the seven men and five women will be kept secret. The actual vote won’t be disclosed, only whether the jurors voted for an indictment or for what’s known as a no-true bill. State law prohibits disclosure of the vote.

    Panel members are prohibited from disclosing anything they saw or heard in the proceeding, or expressing an opinion about it, said Paul Fox, director of judicial administration for St. Louis County.

    Violating that secrecy would put a juror in contempt of court with a penalty to be determined by a judge, Magee has said previously. He added that he’s unaware of any such prosecutions in his 19 years in the prosecutor’s office.

    If there is an indictment, it will be reviewed by Circuit Judge Carolyn Whittington, who is overseeing the grand jury. The case would then go to Presiding Judge Maura McShane, who will schedule an arraignment. From there, it would be assigned randomly to a circuit judge in the court’s criminal division.

    Evidence before the grand jury won’t be released unless approved by Whittington, Fox said Sunday. McCulloch has pledged to do so if no indictment is forthcoming.

    “If the grand jury returns a no true bill, the judge anticipates the court will receive requests for grand jury records,” Fox said. “Some of those requests will require the court to analyze the need for maintaining secrecy of the records with the need for public disclosure.”

Arts & Letters
Trudy
Sunday, 12 August 2007