Eighty-eight-year-old Gloria Brown was stunned when the I-Team showed her private medical documents that revealed her phone number, address and a complex medical history, including the medications she takes -- all found after they were apparently discarded from a Manhattan health center.
"This is between me and my doctor and nobody else," said Brown.
“This is just wrong,” said Brown’s daughter, Sandy Gabin, who cares for her mother. “It’s a violation of someone’s rights.”
Brown’s medical history was just one of dozens of records belonging to other patients that the I-Team poured through. This was private medical information that is fiercely protected under the medical privacy laws known as HIPAA.
The documents were apparently discarded from the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Senior Health Center in Chelsea. NBC 4 New York viewer Chris Caeser contacted the I-Team when he discovered the private documents.
Caeser, who lives near the center, said he first noticed the white bags from the medical facility because they seemed to always be thrown in the wrong bins – usually discarded in industrial trash containers that belonged to the restaurants next door.
"The bags were transparent, so I pressed down on it and sure enough, it was a patient report," he said. "I opened up the bag, took it out, I’m not the brightest bulb on the block but this was HIPAA and it’s a violation to put it in public trash."
Also inside the trash bags were torn up prescriptions, discarded receipts and lunch orders – a suggestion that this was all considered regular garbage.
(It should be noted that Caeser, the man who shared the news tip with the I-Team, is also suing Mount Sinai Beth Israel on an unrelated matter, after he fell in front of another medical facility three years ago.)
An officer manager at Mount Sinai Senior Health told the I-Team could not offer an explanation.
"We don’t dispose of medical waste in the garbage, we have a dedicated recycling bin," said the office manager when the I-Team went to ask about the discarded documents. "We dispose of it in a proper way, we have a company that picks up all of our material."
Mount Sinai Beth Israel issued a statement saying, "The absolute confidentiality of Personal Health Information (PHI) is of the highest priority at Mount Sinai and we have strict procedures and policies in place to protect patient privacy.
"When documents containing PHI are discarded, they are to be placed in locked bins and then shredded," the statement said. "Unfortunately, our procedures were not followed at our Senior Health Center location. We see this as an isolated incident and have instituted procedures to prevent this from ever happening again."
The hospital system went onto say that "we are conducting our own internal investigation… and we apologize to those patients affected by this incident."