Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Violation of Privacy Law Charged Monroeville Officials Pledge Investigation

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Violation of Privacy Law Charged Monroeville Officials Pledge Investigation

Article excerpt

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating allegations that proprietary information from Monroeville's 911 dispatch center was released in violation of federal privacy law.

An August 2012 complaint to the department's Office for Civil Rights alleged the municipality's emergency management service provided health information protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to a former police chief via email.

The complaint also said generic user names and passwords were created to access a database of 911 callers' medical information, giving anyone with that information the ability to anonymously access personal medical records.

Monroeville officials plan to hire outside legal counsel and a private investigator to handle the investigation.

Monroeville's 911 dispatch center covers Monroeville, Pitcairn and Wilmerding.

"Anyone who has called the police, called the fire department, used our [emergency medical service]" or was transferred to or from a Monroeville hospital could be affected by the breach, Monroeville manager Lynette McKinney said. Monroeville police Chief Steven Pascarella said the leaks likely started sometime in late 2011 and continued until he discovered them in August 2012.

The breach first surfaced last year after then-Assistant Chief Pascarella filed the complaint, alleging ambulance dispatches were being sent to former Monroeville police Chief George Polnar, who retired in January 2010 and is now employed as the manager of security and parking at UPMC East in Monroeville.

But Ms. McKinney said the breach was wider than that.

"The magnitude of this investigation is well beyond the leaking of one resident's private information to a former chief of police," she said on Tuesday.

Chief Pascarella said that municipal employees and some non- municipal employees wrongly had access to a database containing information from calls to the municipality's dispatch center, though he doesn't know how many people had that access. He said the type of information varied depending on the type of emergency call, but it could include an individual's name, driver's license number, birth date and medical history.

Chief Pascarella was sworn in as chief of the police department on March 12, the same day Ms. McKinney took the manager's position. She was appointed interim manager in January after the resignation of former manager Jeff Silka, who said he was leaving because of pressure from a bloc of council members to remove then-police Chief Doug Cole. The former police chief was demoted to sergeant by Ms. McKinney two days after she was appointed to the interim position.

"I hope the residents now see the seriousness of the situation and hopefully they now understand why I as well as council members could not comment . …

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