Former nurse denies improperly accessing patients’ records

Rosie
Rosie Mullaley
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A former nurse suspected of accessing patients’ personal medical records told a St. John’s courtroom Thursday that she didn’t break any rules.

Colleen M. Weeks is on trial accused of inappropriately accessing patients’ health records while she worked as a nurse for Eastern Health. — Telegram file photo

“I have never looked up anybody for any wrong reasons in my 10 years in emergency,” Colleen Weeks said while testifying in her trial at provincial court in St. John’s Thursday.

Weeks has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of breaching the province’s Personal Health Information Act (PHIA).

It’s alleged that Weeks accessed records without authorization 18 times between April 18, 2011 and July 10, 2012 while working for Eastern Health as a triage nurse at the Health Sciences Centre in the capital city.

She was originally accused of 124 incidents between July 2010 and July 2012. However, in September of last year, before the trial began, Judge Greg Brown ruled that 106 of those alleged instances pre-dated the PHIA’s one-year limitation statute.

Weeks admitted there were times she accessed patients’ records, but said they were for legitimate reasons.

For instance, she said there were times when people showed up at emergency, frantic to know whether a family member was there. She said in some circumstances, she would check computer records and give them the information, unless the patient didn’t want anyone to know.

She said there were also times when doctors requested information about a patient, or she had to get information for police or information about a suspected drug addict who may have been there looking for drugs. She added she would also need to see if a patient has been transferred or had blood work or an X-ray completed.

Court records indicate Weeks accessed patients’ files for anywhere from 10 seconds to more than half an hour. The 10-second access, she said, were likely the result of typing in a wrong name.

“I’m not a typist. I’m a nurse,” she said.

The longer accesses, she said, were likely due to a computer glitch, which often caused the department’s computer to crash.

Other times, she said, she may have opened a file and suddenly gotten distracted.

But under cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Vikas Khaladkar questioned why she would access the records of a patient who wasn’t even at the hospital where she worked. One patient reportedly was only at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital.

Weeks said that patient likely was at the Health Sciences Centre first, but left to go to St. Clare’s. She said that often happens — people walk in, give their name and leave shortly after due to the long wait, without being officially registered.

“Would you consider that patient still under your circle of care?” Khaladkar asked.

Weeks said she would.

The 32-year-old was fired last year. In late April 2013, provincial information and privacy commissioner Ed Ring announced patients’ health records had been inappropriately accessed.

Ring — who was in court Thursday — had said the investigation which led to the charges marked the first time the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has used section 88(1)(a) of the act to lay charges against an individual. After the health authorities contacted patients whose records were accessed, some chose to file complaints with Ring’s office. There’s also been a class-action suit filed in court.

Weeks was the final witness in the trial, which will continue Sept. 25, at which time lawyers will present their final arguments.

If convicted, Weeks could either be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for a maximum six months.

 

rmullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, Office of the Information

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Recent comments

  • Tina Kavanagh
    August 16, 2014 - 06:38

    I know Colleen Stamp and I believe every word she is saying. She is the type of person who is always busy and for her to sit down at a computer to look into someone's medical history without reason just isn't her personality. She is not the ' nosy' type and Eastern Health should be thankful they have Colleen as an employee. She is honest and outgoing! If she is acquitted of all charges I just hope Eastern Health is willing to pay back her wages retroactive to the day she was let go. Plus compensation for her mental anguish and all life altering changes she endured during the past few years. Justice will prevail I'm sure.

    • MR.Facts
      August 21, 2014 - 08:28

      Funny how everybody thinks she was looking up info for herself. Her former boyfriend calls himself a PI. There is much more to this than meets the P eye.

  • Angela
    August 15, 2014 - 22:32

    It sounds like this girl was screwed over for doing her job. I believe her. Her reasons sound very good.

  • observer
    August 15, 2014 - 21:02

    Over the years I have spent a lot of time at hospitals, either with sick relatives or just visiting friends. Nurses in emergency don't get time to get a break so why is this nurse being punished. I hope the union supports her. I have heard cleaners talk about patients in the cafeteria as they hear chatter about patients when they are doing their chores. Eastern Health is not the place to work-- student nurses take notice!

  • Mike
    August 15, 2014 - 15:22

    Another Managment Failure brought to you by the NFLD Gov and the cost of loss is assumed by the employee..Management 101 you need to audit, access and and provide meaningful direction to your employees

  • Marcus
    August 15, 2014 - 15:18

    Another management failure by Eastern Health where an employee has to shoulder the loss due to lack of accountable leadership. From the Tower to the Moat

  • john
    August 15, 2014 - 14:09

    Come on people, this is all about some Lawyer looking for a fat pay cheque .This is a wild goose chase. She was just doing her job.

  • JMAP
    August 15, 2014 - 13:00

    Why would any Nurse working in Emergency for 10 years jeopardize her career to view patient files?????? I believe her, working in a busy, stressful environment, its not unusual to walk away or be distracted from computers by interruptions, or to have a lot of cross-checking of files. I Trust she will be found innocent and be reimbursed by Eastern Health for being a scapegoat for new regulations.

  • RN
    August 15, 2014 - 12:12

    This seems like a witch hunt to me. Anyone who has worked in a busy emergency department, that is always short staffed, her explination is understandable. I only hope the judge throws this out because if convicted, we are all done for.

  • steve
    August 15, 2014 - 12:10

    Wouldn,t someone in this position have been informed of what was acceptable behavior and what was not.Looking into files regardless of who they belong to is not proper unless you have professional reason to do so.Any job I have ever had dealing with personal info came with dire consequences if proper protocol was not followed.

  • Mike
    August 15, 2014 - 11:46

    Another management failure where the employee has shoulder the loss. Let's blame the employee; any management accountablity here?

    • David
      August 15, 2014 - 15:33

      So what is EH procedures and protocols in regards to data/file observation; different rules for different sources. As a Police Officer we need this access readily available as per our leglislative requirement. It is the responsiblity of EH to manage this internal issue. Have there been internal audits to fix these gaps, why to we mitigate alway in court

  • Mr. Curious
    August 15, 2014 - 10:17

    So is this Ms Weeks or Ms Stamp in the photo? What's with the name change as reported elsewhere? When it comes to nosiness is this much different than spreading lies and gossip about people's privacy and health that we all know runs rampant in this province.

    • Mrs. Curious
      August 16, 2014 - 18:14

      Hey Mr. Curious, Who cares if she uses her married or maiden name? Who says she is nosy? Get your facts in tact before condemning Ms. Stamp.

  • Discussed
    August 15, 2014 - 09:55

    I wouldn't want to work as a Nurse according to the way this lady is being treated. How can you work in a health care environment without accessing information. If she shouldn't have access to these files set her computer to that mode. This is not her fault but the fault of the environment she worked in. Terrible! Wouldn't pay enough to be a nurse. All students studying to be nurses should take a long hard look at this case.

  • Gary
    August 15, 2014 - 09:49

    I believe she makes good points. I would never want to work where she did, knowing you may be victimized by your employer.

    • Jeff
      August 15, 2014 - 11:37

      God help anyone who works for Eastern Health! When you get home you have to check your back for knives.

  • Mabbes
    August 15, 2014 - 09:15

    Read the story - and boy oh boy - a little shocked actually - a nurse being fired for accessing patient records. Really? did she sell the information ? No - doesn't seem to be. I work in an area where PRIVACY is a big deal as well - and from time to time....I have incorrectly accessed a file.. My word! The privacy act is being taken way too far.... She is a nurse - records need to be accessed. The privacy act is for the "Mis sharing or illegal sharing" of information...she - as i believe was well within her rights to view information based on her position and role. From a different perspective: those who have leaked the personal information 'by accident' from eastern health and other organizations do not get the airtime or headlines like this poor lady has. Were they fired as well? will they face hefty fines, jail time etc? No of course not because the were are probably still are at the top of the food chain. Man o Man USE THE LAWS AS THEY WERE MEANT TO BE People take this so literal. Privacy Is Privacy and as such - in her dealings with patients and high stress job - she accessed a file for 10 seconds....lordy lordy all the mean while - doing what she does best - SAVING LIVES!

  • InSolidarity
    August 15, 2014 - 09:09

    Anyone who works in a busy hospital setting, especially emerg, can appreciate the reasoning Ms Weeks gave at the trial. These things certainly do happen and it is absolutely believable. I can say, in my time as a nurse, I had zero interest in looking up random patient files because I have enough to worry about right in front of me. The sheer number of records accessed would indicate that either this nurse was doing her job or should be treated for some sort of odd OCD that causes her to be 'newsy.' She worked in HSC emerg. Where would she get the time to start randomly accessing files? I fear the court of public opinion might win out in this case.

    • Colleen Stamp
      August 15, 2014 - 10:30

      InSolidarity. Thank you for shedding light on things on the inside.

    • RN
      August 15, 2014 - 13:53

      Looks like a witch hunt to me. Anyone who has worked in a busy emergency department can understand her explanation. I hope she is found not guilty because if she is convicted, the rest of us will be done for. Nurses have no interest in other peoples medical histories unless it's on a need to know basis. The Health Science emergency department is a mad house at the best of times.