Nursing home patient information found in residents' yards

By Amber Parcher
The Gazette
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services is looking into how numerous Wheaton nursing home papers containing sensitive patient information have made their way into nearby neighbors' yards over the past few months.

Last month, the county sent a nursing home inspector to investigate complaints from residents in the Wheaton Regional Park Civic Association who said they have found internal documents from the nearby ManorCare Health Services that contain patient conditions, names and Social Security numbers.

After the visit, the inspector cited ManorCare for inappropriate conduct, but details on what exactly the nursing home did wrong will not be released for another 10 days, said Nancy Grimm, the director of the state's Office of Health Care Quality. Grimm's department can impose fines or a correction plan to rectify a problem, she said.

ManorCare Health Services is a nursing home on Georgia Avenue run by HCR ManorCare, one of the nation's largest hospice, nursing home and home-care providers.

The director of nursing at ManorCare Health Services, Donna Hof, referred questions to ManorCare's corporate marketing communicator, Julie Beckert.

"The safety and well-being of our patients is our utmost concern, and we take precaution to ensure their well-being and privacy," Beckert wrote in a March 26 statement e-mailed to The Gazette. "Unfortunately, a few facility papers that were thrown away were found in a neighbor's yard."

Beckert said in the statement that ManorCare is working with federal, state and local officials to make sure it properly trains its staff on how to destroy sensitive documents in accordance with the federal Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, which requires physicians to control the ways in which they use and disclose patients' protected health information.

Residents say the problem creates concern that the facility isn't taking patients' security seriously.

"I have a stack of information. I know the names of employees who work there; I have everything," said Kimberly Persaud, president of the Wheaton Regional Park Civic Association.

Persaud lives on Henderson Avenue, just south of the nursing home. Over the years, she said, she has plucked numerous pieces of patient information from her azalea bushes.

Other residents, who live on streets farther from the nursing home, said they have found nursing home documents on their lawns since February.

Anderson said 32 nursing homes operate in Montgomery County, and her department inspects them regularly and on request. She said the county surveyors act on behalf of the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which can take regulatory action if the county finds a nursing home violated health regulations.

No regulatory action has been taken against ManorCare, Anderson said.

Parker Avenue resident Mary Jane Berry, who found ManorCare documents on her lawn in February that contained diagnoses of patients' wound types and physicians' recommended treatment, said having the problem in the first place is unacceptable. Berry said she works as a social worker in a medical setting.

She said it's inconceivable that nursing staff wouldn't shred the documents immediately.

"You don't do that. You shred everything with patient names on it," Berry said. "This is kind of horrifying."

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