An employee of the VA’s Black Hills Health Care System in South Dakota threw more than 1,100 files containing Social Security numbers and other confidential information about VA patients into a dumpster behind the hospital. That is a violation of federal law.
The Social Security Act Amendments of 1990 bars the disclosure of Social Security numbers by federal, state and local governments. That includes giving out that information in any way, including throwing files in a dumpster where anyone walking by can pick up the files and find out a person’s SSN.
The incident happened at the Hot Springs campus of the Black Hills Health Care System on May 15 during a routine office move. The security violation was discovered two days later by another VA employee who fished the files out of the dumpster and notified hospital security guards.
VA Black Hills spokesperson Teresa Forbes told the Rapid City Journal that, “The investigation found that during a regular office move, that the box of files was inadvertently throw in the receptacle.” Forbes told the paper it was “an unfortunate mistake.”
Because VA police recovered and secured all the files, Forbes said the VA is “very confident that we don’t anticipate that their information has been targeted or will be misused.” She also said an investigation had been conducted, but it did not determine which VA employee was at fault.
This isn’t the first scandal to hit the VA Black Hills Health Care System. It is just the latest in a string of scandals that have plagued that VA hospital for more than a year. There is something wrong with the administration of the hospital.
Back in April 2014, after the wait-time scandal at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona made national headlines, the VA conducted internal investigations into wait times at all VA facilities nationwide. Those investigations revealed long wait times and improper scheduling practices at other VA facilities.
The VA Black Hills Health Care System was one of the VA hospitals that were flagged as “requiring further review” by the VA. The VA conducted an audit of the VA Black Hills system, and found several serious problems.
The VA investigation found that employees of the VA Black Hills system had been instructed to manipulate desired appointment dates to make them look closer to the next appointment actually available. That is exactly what VA employees had done in the wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. But, just like the VA wait time scandal at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, nobody lost their job because they manipulated appointment data to hide long wait-times.
At the Black Hills Health Care System’s Rapid City outpatient clinic, employees were instructed not to use the Electronic Wait List program, in order to hide long wait times.
Employees at the VA Black Hills’ Prairie Health outpatient clinics (in Faith, Isabel and Eagle Butte, South Dakota) used outside logs to schedule patients, which raised concerns about the security of confidential personal information about patients.
The explanation from VA Black Hills spokesperson Teresa Forbes did not placate VA critics, such as U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), who told the Rapid City Journal that the incident was indicative of “gross mismanagement,” by the VA.
The Hot Springs campus of the VA’s Black Hills Health Care System is located about 60 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota. The Hot Springs campus is also about 90 miles north of the Fort Meade Campus, which serves as the administrative headquarters for the Black Hills Health Care System.
This latest scandal at the VA is one more indication that the VA health care system is a mess. Maybe John McCain is right and it’s time to make all veterans enrolled in the VA’s health care system eligible for private medical care paid for by the VA, by using their Veterans Choice Card.