Health worker breached privacy rights over adoption: report

‘Any slip, no matter how well-intentioned, can have serious consequences.’ privacy commissioner says

Graham Steele, Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner, says Nunavut’s Health Department should apologize for a health clinic worker who violated an adoptive parent’s privacy.(File photo)

By Nunatsiaq News

Nunavut’s Health Department should apologize for a health clinic worker who violated an adoptive parent’s privacy, Nunavut’s privacy commissioner says.

The incident — in which the clinic worker told another person about the pending adoption before the adoptive parent had told anyone else — led to a complaint being filed against the Department of Health.

Information and privacy commissioner Graham Steele received the complaint Feb. 18 and opened an investigation. He released his report on the incident last Friday.

The report does not identify the adoptive parent, the clinic worker or the community where the incident took place.

In the report, Steele said the complainant had adopted a baby but had not told anyone at that point, including family. However, a staff member at the community’s public health clinic told a person who works with the complainant about the adoption.

Steele said an adoption process can be a sensitive time, and that the adoptive parent had already experienced a privacy breach by the Health Department previously.

The parent texted the public health staff member, saying no one was supposed to know about the adoption yet. The staff member texted an apology.

Steele’s report said it can “hardly be disputed” that the adoptive parent’s privacy was breached.

“The real issue is what to do about it,” he said.

The Health Department became aware of the breach after Steele contacted it about the complaint, and decided there would be no workplace discipline for the staff member, Steele’s report indicated.

The complainant wanted a sincere apology from the Department of Health. But the department said the staff member had already apologized.

The complainant responded that an in-the-moment text should not count as a sincere apology.

Steele agreed.

“Health, as the public body responsible for Nunavut’s health system, has yet to offer an apology to the complainant,” Steele said.

“I recommend it do so.”

On Tuesday, Health Department spokesperson Danarae Sommerville said the department agrees with Steele’s recommendations and will take appropriate action to fulfill all of them.

In terms of reducing risk of future breaches, Steele said Health is already one of the GN departments with a better track record for maintaining privacy.

Steele recommended the staff member take a refresher course on patient privacy and that public health managers in that community meet with their teams to discuss the importance of not sharing work-related information outside the workplace.

“The facts of this case would be a good example to use in future training,” Steele said.

“Any slip, no matter how well-intentioned, can have serious consequences.”


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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by What Consequences? on

    “Any slip, no matter how well-intentioned, can have serious consequences.”

    The only consequences apparent are those that impact whose privacy was breached and not the Department of Health or those responsible for the breach. Those responsible got a slap on the wrist. Privacy Breaches and ATIP request dodging needs to have penalties and accountabilities to the departments and its employees. This will not do anything to prevent similar breaches in the future!

  2. Posted by Concerned on

    My mom went to the nursing station to confirm her pregnancy with me. She couldn’t wait to tell my dad they were expecting. On her walk home from the nursing station she was congratulated. She was so mad that she didn’t get to tell my dad.
    The person who did the breach should get a warning and placed in their HR file. And then staff meeting to discuss confidentiality and consequences of breaching it.

    • Posted by kerfuffle on

      I’ve had a similar situation happen to me. It was my first pregnancy and the front desk staff at the health centre told people in the community about it. I wasn’t even ready to tell my family about it and I also wanted to wait to tell everyone. But, I had no choice but to tell them because I didn’t want them to hear it from anyone other than me. My sister even found out from someone else.
      There needs to be some serious consequences to health care workers who gossip about our health issues. Who know what else they’re sharing with others?1?!

    • Posted by kerfuffle on

      jokes on them because I had a miscarriage. I wonder if they told the community that too???

  3. Posted by art thompson on

    Process aside….there are no secrets up here.

  4. Posted by First time on

    Finally, a watchdog has reported publicly a privacy breach committed by the healthcare professionals in Nunavuts history. Unless I am wrong, this is the first time that I ever read.
    Does anyone know how many privacy breaches occur in day by gossiping, snooping into others personal health information in Nunavut by the healthcare providers? Our Govt does not even have a privacy breach policy and a dedicated department and or a person to receive complaints and investigate.
    Hope the Commissioner can crack the whip and get a process in place to report these incidents and prevent them from happening.

  5. Posted by richard nimpo on

    I love it….not sure if its lack of professionalism, respect or just boundries not being followed. Where I work its common place. People with no lives mucking around in other peoples lives. Rumor, gossip is continous. Self entitled busy bodies.

  6. Posted by Truestory on

    In today’s times…”privacy” is just a word now. Sad. But. True.

  7. Posted by lol apologies on

    The nerve of the senior managers at this department not providing an actual apology for the breach. Does anyone hold these ADMs and directors accountable?

  8. Posted by 867 on

    Health centers are cesspools of gossips. I don’t trust the staff with any sensitive information

    • Posted by John WP Murphy on

      The people I trust even less are the gossipers sitting in the waiting room awaiting their turn. LOL

  9. Posted by Agree on

    The health care providers working at QGH has no limit of gossiping . I hear lots of comments and laughing when you are at an ears distance in the hospital. So unprofessional and I have lost trust in them to share any of my health issues. So unprofessional now I see another doctor snooping into others chart , no words to describe.
    Health DM and their senior management needs to be accountable for these incidents. Not just getting highly paid checks and do not even care what’s happening to the clients that you serve.

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