Jamaica Gleaner / Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter More than a year ago, Jamaica's health ministry promised to audit the security procedures at medical records filing rooms at all government−run health facilities.
The pledge was made after a Sunday Gleaner investigation conducted in April 2012, revealed that lax security measures at two of Jamaica's leading hospitals − the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) and the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) − left the confidential medical history of patients open to public access.
However, it appears the review was either not conducted or not done satisfactorily.
Only last week, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson visited the KPH and again ordered "an urgent review of the arrangements surrounding the operation of the medical records section".
Ferguson directed that "a taskforce immediately examine the medical records facility with a view to maximising the use of available space in the short run, while exploring ways to expand the facility in the medium term".
But checks by The Sunday Gleaner indicate that Ferguson would do well to order a similar taskforce to examine the Port Antonio Health Centre, as confidential patient information is available at that facility for anyone to have a read.
A member of our news team recently trekked to Portland, walked into the medical records filing room of the Port Antonio Health Centre and leafed through patient records housed at the facility.
Ironically, a warning on the cover of the patient files makes it clear that not even patients are permitted to handle the highly confidential files.
Most of the patient files are stored in Room 35. The door to the small room housing the medical history of thousands of patients was left open. No one was inside.
A member of our news team was able to enter and exit the room on a number of occasions without any member of staff asking a question.
Medical records are also stored behind the health centre's registration desk.
Our news team also noticed that there were times when the registration area was left unattended as staff moved about in the execution of their duties.
Patient records that should be confidential could have easily been removed. Patient files were also seen on the floor in the registration area.
The investigation also unearthed that medical records were stored in an area that doubles as a lunch room for staff as well as a collection point for food handlers' permits.
During our first stop at the mini lunch room, staff members were seen using a microwave oven that is in proximity to a gas cylinder in the small space which is also used to house hundreds of patient files.
When the investigation was complete, our news team asked to speak with Bentley Steer, parish manager for health services in Portland.
When confronted with the details of our investigation, Steer was unwilling to discuss the issue.
"I am not prepared for any discussion on that today," he said. Our news team continued asking about the security measures instituted to ensure patient files are kept confidential, but Steer would not budge.
By this time, the parish manager started to clear his desk and told our news team that he had to leave.
When told that we possessed video evidence and photographs to show that a member of our news team was able to walk from the street into the medical filing room with no hassle, Steer was still evasive.
"If you did that, then I think that's not good," was all the parish manager offered.
Not good for who? our news team asked. But the parish manager steered clear of the question.
"Sorry, but I have to go … I am not prepared to have any discussion at all on that," said Steer.
Efforts to get a comment from the North East Regional Health Authority (NERHA) were unsuccessful as the health authority did not respond to our questions.
NERHA is an agency of the health ministry that has responsibility for all government−run health facilities in the parishes of St Ann, St Mary and Portland.
Each parish is under the responsibility of a parish manager, who administers the resources involved in the delivery of health services.
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