Leak of Emory patient records could affect thousands

Nine Emory Healthcare patients have become victims of identity theft in a case that could affect the records of thousands, Channel 2 Action News reported Monday.

The hospital bills of 32 patients at Emory’s orthopedic clinic were taken, and the Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other confidential information were used to file fraudulent tax returns in nine patients’ names, the hospital confirmed.

"Because of the heightened level of importance Emory Healthcare places on the protection of private patient data, we have taken the additional measure of notifying by letter more than 7,300 other patients of this situation -– although we have no reason to believe any of these individuals have been impacted in any way," Emory spokesman Lance Skelley said in a prepared statement.

"However, because of our commitment to our patients and their loved ones, and as part of our overall culture of transparency, these patients have been notified that this event occurred around the same time they may have had clinical encounters with the section of Orthopaedics," Skelley said.

Investigators found evidence of document thefts in the home of Annette Ford, a former real estate broker from Suwanee who investigators said made about $2.5 million as a mid-level player in a massive identity fraud conspiracy.

Ford, 47, was arrested April 14 and pleaded guilty in federal court June 13 to conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges.

The AJC reported in May that authorities seized from Ford’s home 15 boxes of mortgage documents and bankruptcy filings, bank records, 393 tax returns filed in other peoples’ names, and a collection of 5,779 names listed in a three-ring binder that included corresponding dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

No mention of Emory was made at the time.

Ford had no affiliation with the hospital but allegedly had an inside contact, a person formerly employed as a clerk.

The employee printed off the 2008 bills of more than 3,000 orthopedic clinic patients, Channel 2 reported. It did not disclose its sources for the information.

“We were able to track when those documents were printed out, by whom, at what time and what day, which printer they came off from … so we were able to track that down to a particular individual,” Skelley told Channel 2 in an interview.

Emory fired the clerk in July. DeKalb County police have been investigating but are not known to have brought charges.

As many as 9,000 people total across the country may be at risk because of the ring's activities, Channel 2 reported.

In September, Emory sent a letter out to about 7,000 people -- all of the orthopedic clinic patients from 2008 -- notifying them about the breach of security. The letter advised patients to be vigilant about monitoring their credit and personal data.

"This issue is in no way a breach of Emory’s electronic medical records system, but rather a human failure to properly follow Emory Healthcare’s prescribed duties and responsibilities for protecting private patient information," Skelley said in the prepared statement.

"Unfortunately, these types of record thefts have impacted several hospital systems in Georgia and nationally," Skelley said. "We have reached out to the Georgia Hospital Association for assistance in statewide collaboration efforts to further protect health care patients across the state.

"Emory Healthcare has also implemented additional steps to better protect the confidentiality of all patient information."

It was not clear Monday if the latest revelation of ID theft at Emory was connected to one reported by the AJC in February. Then, the hospital said the identifications of 77 orthopedic clinic patients had been stolen. Another 2,400 patients were notified that a theft had occurred.

-- Channel 2 Action News reporter Kerry Kavanaugh contributed to this article.