Patients frustrated, vulnerable after medical records left in Denver alley

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DENVER -- Patients said Monday they felt frustrated and vulnerable after learning their medical records were left in a Denver alley, a move a chiropractor responsible for the files called an accident.

On Saturday, someone alerted the FOX31 Problem Solvers that medical files were scattered around a dumpster in an alley near downtown Denver.

About 70 patients' files were recovered. They included names, Social Security numbers, insurance information and reports detailing patients' medical history.

"You think it's going to be secure. And, hopefully, that file is going to stay with them for perpetuity and it's going to be shredded or destroyed in the proper manner, not left out in an alley for people to get at, look at, and possibly commit fraud or whatever with your Social Security number and valuable information," said Bill Person, a patient whose file was found in the alley.

Chiropractor Rory Lee with Eden Life Spa was in charge of the files, which originated from chiropractor Otsie Stowell's Blue Skies Clinic in Boulder.

Lee and another chiropractor purchased Stowell's practice a decade ago and Stowell said the files became their responsibility.

"There were 800 to 1,000 patient files that they took over," said Stowell.

Lee would not do an interview about the files and only responded by email. He would not say how many files were thrown in the dumpster.

"The files were thrown out by accident," Lee said in an email. "No one knew there were files down there and they were cleaning out the basement. We feel terrible that this happened. We are humbly sorry. And will do anything we can to rectify the problem."

One patient, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear that her information is now at risk, said she doesn't understand how staff could think they were anything but patient files, especially given the information on pages.

"What did they think they were?" said the patient. "Patient information is the title of one page. It is a terrible thing. And who can we trust if we can't trust our doctors?"

Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, entities cannot throw medical files into a dumpster unless the information is unreadable or indecipherable.

The files found in the alley were easily decipherable, making the file dump a HIPAA violation.

According to rules established by the state's chiropractic board, patient files must be destroyed so it cannot be recovered. The board suggests shredding or incinerating the documents.