Hospital: files with personal, medical data on 800,000 gone

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A data management firm has lost hospital records, containing a wide array of personal information, that belonged to hundreds of thousands of people.

The backup files contained confidential data on about 800,000 people, mostly patients who received treatment at the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Mass. between Jan. 1, 1996 to Jan. 6, 2010, according to a hospital statement released Monday. Information on employees, doctors, volunteers, donors, vendors and partners also was contained in the files.

The data included names, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, health plan information, in addition to diagnoses and treatments, according to the 318-bed hospital. There also was some credit card and bank account information stored on the files.

A consulting firm hired to investigate the breach said "specialized software, hardware and technical knowledge and skill" would be required to access the files and decipher data on them. The statement did not mention encryption.

The backup files were shipped on Feb. 26, and the hospital never received notice that the data was destroyed. After it "pressed" the unnamed data management contractor for information, the hospital was told on June 17 that only some of the files actually were eliminated, the statement said.

The hospital, which since has ended offsite destruction of computer files, plans to notify victims over the next several weeks.

“I am deeply sorry that these files may have been lost,” Richard Aubut, the hospital's president and chief executive officer, said. "I recognize that this situation is unacceptable and would like to personally apologize to all those who have trusted us with their sensitive information.”

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