Canadian Security Magazine

OSC lays charges in patient records privacy breach at two Toronto hospitals

By Diana Mehta for The Canadian Press   

News Health Care

Criminal charges have been laid after thousands of confidential records were allegedly stolen from two Toronto hospitals and used to market registered education savings plans to new mothers.

The alleged incidents involved the Rouge Valley Health System and the Scarborough Hospital and were investigated by Ontario’s financial regulator, which oversees the sale of RESPs.

One former Rouge Valley employee had already been charged in connection with the alleged misuse of patient information, but the Ontario Securities Commission said Tuesday that its investigation has lead to fresh charges against five more people.

The OSC alleges that Nellie Acar, a former sales representative for a company called Global RESP Corporation, bought stolen maternity patient labels from Esther Cruz, a registered nurse who worked at both hospitals.

It says Acar allegedly used the patient information as a source of RESP investment sales leads, and at least twice allegedly submitted false education savings plan enrolment applications through her company.

Acar is charged with two counts of secret commissions, two counts of forgery, two counts of uttering a forged document and two counts of possession of property obtained by crime, while Cruz is charged with two counts of secret commissions, two counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of theft under $5,000.

In a similar case, the OSC alleges Poly Edry, a former branch manager with a company called Knowledge First Financial, bought confidential maternity information over a period of about five years from a former Rouge Valley Hospital clerk named Shaida Bandali – who has already been charged with unregistered trading.

Bandali also allegedly sold confidential maternity information for about two years to Subramaniam Sulur, who worked as an assistant branch manager with a company called Consultants Inc.

The OSC alleges both Edry and Sulur provided the confidential information to sales representatives at their former firms as a source of potential RESP investment sales leads.

Edry and Sulur have each been charged under the Securities Act with one count of failing to act fairly, honestly and in good faith with clients, and one count of participating with an unlawful referral arrangement.

Edry’s spouse, Gavriel Edry, allegedly helped with gathering and dissemination of confidential maternity information and has been charged with one count of unregistered trading.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The company Poly Edry worked for said the independent sales representative and her husband collaborated in “purposeful deception.”

“We are sorry this incident has violated public trust,” it said in a statement. “Knowledge First Financial immediately suspended Ms. Edry, launched an internal investigation into the matter, and transitioned operations of her branch to head office.”

The company said it also completed a third party audit of its operations to make sure no other branch was involved in the alleged breach.

The Scarborough Hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokesman for Rouge Valley said the hospital takes the health care and privacy of its patients “very seriously.”

“We continue to co-operate and fully support the investigation by the Joint Serious Offences Team,” said David Brazeau.

Rouge Valley has previously said it believes its former employees may have used and disclosed information on patients who gave birth at its hospital sites between July 9, 2009 and April 5, 2014.

The alleged breach at Rouge Valley was investigated by Ontario’s privacy commissioner, who found in December that the hospital failed to put reasonable safeguards in place to protect patients’ privacy.

The alleged breaches also led to a proposed class-action lawsuit being filed against Rouge Valley, alleging thousands of new mothers and their babies had their personal information sold for profit.

One of the two lead plaintiffs in the proposed class action alleged she started getting aggressive sales calls the day her son was released from the hospital and the salesperson refused to identify herself. The phone number the salesperson was using was not one that could receive incoming calls, it’s alleged.

The lawsuit is seeking damages of upwards of $300 million.

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