FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - A North Texas hospital is notifying hundreds of thousands of former patients that their medical records may have been left in a Dallas park instead of being properly destroyed, hospital officials said this week.
Records from as many as 277,000 patients admitted to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth from 1980 to 1990 ended up at an east Dallas park near White Rock Lake, said Wendell Watson, a spokesman for Texas Health Resources, which operates the hospital. Watson said the records were in microfiche, which is a card or sheet of microfilm containing rows of images, of paper text.
The records may include names, addresses, dates of birth, medical record numbers and Social Security numbers, Texas Health said in a statement.
Whether anyone misused the data is unclear, Watson said. Patients whose information may have been compromised should receive letters notifying them of the possible breach. Officials have set up a hotline and posted information on Texas Health's website for anyone who doesn't receive a letter by August 1 and thinks they may be affected.
Texas Health had a contract with the vendor Shred-It to dispose of medical records, Watson said. Most documents are shredded at or near the hospitals or offices, but the shredders on the company's trucks could not handle the microfiche film, which is not typically used anymore, he said.
The vendor was to take microfiche records earlier this year to a facility with the ability to shred them. But it appears that at least some of the files weren't shredded but instead taken to a landfill, Watson said. And of those documents, some were left next to a dumpster at Flag Pole Hill Park in Dallas.
Someone in the park spotted the documents being left there and called Dallas police, Watson said, and Texas Health was notified on May 13. Since then, workers have had to review the records using specialized equipment to find names of people on them, Watson said. The hospital system has also ended its contract with Shred-It, he said.
Watson did not know the name of the person who was dumping the records in the park. Dallas police could not immediately find a record of the incident.
Shred-It did not respond to a message seeking comment.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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