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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2010

Agency employee fired in probe of discarded DHEC documents

COLUMBIA, S.C. - An inquiry into how documents containing protected health information belonging to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control were discarded into a Columbia recycling bin last month resulted in the termination of an agency employee who admitted throwing the documents into the bin rather than taking them to be shredded, the agency announced today.

“This was a case where long-standing agency procedures to protect personal information were not followed,” said DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter. “This is unacceptable for us and the public we serve. We are contacting each person whose information was on those documents to apologize.”

Hunter said the documents, which contained names and other protected information, were found Feb. 20 at a City of Columbia recycling center located behind DHEC and state Department of Social Services offices on Bull Street. Once the documents were returned to DHEC Feb. 25, the agency contacted the State Law Enforcement Division to conduct a preliminary inquiry. During interviews with SLED, the DHEC employee admitted throwing the documents away rather than taking them to a DHEC shredding facility. The employee was terminated March 15 upon completion of SLED's preliminary inquiry.

“We are grateful to SLED for their involvement and professionalism in determining what happened,” Hunter said. “While we believe that this is an isolated incident, we are tightening our document handling procedures and reminding our staff of the importance of protecting the most private and personal of information about the people we serve.”

Hunter said the agency is continuing its review of the incident. So far, no charges have been filed against the terminated employee.

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For more information:
Thom Berry - (803) 898-3885
E-mail - berrytw@dhec.sc.gov
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