Confidentiality Trashed

Disposal error puts Value Options patient records on the streets of Glendale

Public Records

The Spike wonders what Glendale residents must have thought when they recently found the confidential records of mental health patients blowing through their backyards and businesses.

Oh yes. Big faux pas.

It seems that someone at the state-funded West Camelback Value Options clinic, 5022 North 54th Avenue -- which serves about 1,200 patients -- threw away a bunch of paperwork in the City of Glendale trash.

John Godfrey, manager of the clinic, tells the story much better than The Spike ever could. In a memo to staff dated February 21, Godfrey writes:

"As most of you know by now, we had a very serious incident which occurred this week. A bag of confidential materials was thrown away in the regular City of Glendale trash. This bag apparently fell off the garbage truck at 57th Ave and Camelback and spilled hundreds if not thousands of papers on to the streets and surrounding businesses."

The memo goes on to chide those sloppy workers -- and any who may be so careless in the future -- about the "clear breach of confidentiality and ethical standard" associated with throwing patient records into the round file.

"No one is to dispose of confidential materials in any location other than the locked recycle bins in the large conference room," Godfrey writes. "Throwing confidential materials into the trash cans is against policy and an egregious violation of a patient's right to privacy. Any future incidents of this will be viewed very seriously and will result in disciplinary action."

The Spike's sources say what Godfrey did not reveal in his memo is that the info blowing in the Glendale breeze included patients' confidential psychiatric information, social security numbers, addresses and phone numbers. Numerous citizens called the Value Options clinic to report finding the paperwork in their yards.

Godfrey rousted staff members and dispatched them to city streets with trash bags to pick up as many of the documents as they could find.

Malena Albo, a spokeswoman for Value Options, confirms that patients' most personal information was stuck in Glendale bushes. But she says Godfrey fibbed about the amount of documents in the memo. It wasn't really that big of a deal, she says.

"It was an exaggeration designed to get the staff's attention," Albo says. Still, even by her count, there were many, many private records on the loose.

Hmmm. The Spike isn't sure which is worse -- losing control of the records of vulnerable people or lying about it in order to get the staff's attention.

Pass the Prozac.

From Skip With Love

Speaking of documents blowing around town, The Spike was delighted to obtain a copy of a letter from Mayor Skip Rimsza -- on official City of Phoenix letterhead -- pimping the contractor who built the mayor's palatial abode on the edge of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Sharp-eyed Spike readers will note that the letter (reproduced here) is actually kind of old -- dated nearly five years ago.

But better late than never. And, who'd have guessed, it's still breaking news -- even to the mayor, who says he had no idea the letter was circulating 'til The Spike faxed a copy to City Hall earlier this week.

Here's their story, and they're sticking to it:

"It clearly came out of this office, but it shouldn't have," says Scott Phelps, who's been the mayor's spokesman for many years.

Phelps says that the letter was definitely signed by the mayor's signature machine, and one that was in use about that time. He notes that that particular machine, which has been replaced, used to kind of smear a line across the back end of "Rimsza." (And who wouldn't still love to do that?)

But Phelps says the mayor did not write the letter. "It's clearly inappropriate and not something we would ever knowingly do."

Phelps says he showed Rimsza the letter, and the mayor at first couldn't recall Classic Stellar Homes or Bill Jordan. (The Spike would love to be able to write a check for a million-dollar house and forget where it went.)

"That was off the top of his head. It [the contractor] wasn't something that meant very much to him," Phelps says.

Phelps surmises that someone wrote the letter, put it on letterhead, then slipped it into the stack of papers that get the mayor's fake signature every day. Various members of the clerical staff use the machine, which, he concedes, is "not so closely guarded."

Shocking.

Although, come to think of it, Rimsza seems willing to go along with just about anything, like millions for a stadium we don't really need. Or more parking garages. Maybe his staff is just following his lead when it comes to lending the city's name to pals. Who's next? The Baptist Foundation? Arthur Andersen? Enron?

Phelps is appropriately sheepish. "The most embarrassing thing is how badly it's written."

Spike us! Call 602-229-8451 or e-mail spiked@newtimes.com

 
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