HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A contact tracing data breach exposed 76,000 people's private health information. State lawmakers want answers, and on Wednesday, the Department of Health started talking.
It's the first time the Department of Health talked publicly about what happened with Insight Global, the company hired to do Pennsylvania's COVID-19 contact tracing.
Wednesday's conversation comes at a critical time as kids prepare to head back to class and we brace for rising case counts across the state.
In a hearing that lasted over two hours, Pennsylvania lawmakers didn't hold back. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam answered what she could.
"As a tool, contact tracing is more important now than ever, given the limited mitigation currently in place and the threat of the delta variant," said Beam.
Lawmakers grilled Secretary Beam on why the Department of Health hired Atlanta-based Insight Global to handle COVID contact tracing for the commonwealth.
Beam explained the timeline of the breach. The state first heard murmurings about it on April 7. On April 8, Insight Global allegedly told the state it handled it.
"By the week of April 20, the Department of Health became aware certain Insight Global employees disregarded safety protocols and established unauthorized documents created outside state systems," said Beam.
That's why a team of attorneys, including Pittsburgh's Phil DiLucente, filed a class action lawsuit against the Health Department and Insight Global. They're asking for alleged victims to come forward.
"My co-counsel, including Jack Goodrich and the other lawyers who are across the state, have had numerous people reach out to them. I can tell you this. And it's very very concerning," said DiLucente.
The Pennsylvania National Guard picked up COVID-19 contact tracing duties in early June, and the task may soon transition to a new company, Public Consulting Group.
It looks like this new company won't store anyone's health data on Google spreadsheets.
"Moving forward, the way we're preventing it is that the new vendor is again going to be bound to restricting all information to only our state systems," said Beam.
Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill led the hearing, saying she wants to make sure the state doesn't rush this next step or waste any more money.
"We heard today the majority of the funds for this contract were federal dollars, but we know people back home, they don't care if it's federal money, state money, it's all their hard-earned money and we have a responsibility to safeguard it," said Phillips-Hill.
The contract with this new contact tracing company would total $34 million. One lawmaker asked why the job didn't go to a Pennsylvania company. Secretary Beam said it came down to time, saying Public Consulting Group has a proven track record of doing this successfully in other states, something they did not have to rely on with Insight Global.
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