HHS joins medical records dump investigation

TOMBALL, Texas – With the help of Tomball Police, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights is investigating the illegal dumping of thousands of medical records.

The more than 20 boxes of records belonged to former Today’s Vision patients and employees, including their Social Security numbers.

“I can assure you of the gravity of the situation,” Today’s Vision executive director Greg Watson said. “It’s disturbing.”

Watson said Today’s Vision’s more than 50 offices in Texas, including 35 in the Houston area, are independently owned and operated.

The Willowbrook location, where most of the records came from, was sold 90 days ago to another optometry corporation, MyEyeDr, documents provided by Watson show.

The Today’s Vision Willowbrook website is still online, but Watson said that will soon change. 

“The Today’s Willowbrook location no longer exists,” he said. 

Dr. Donald Glenz owned and operated the two Today’s Vision locations in Willowbrook and Tomball, where all the records appeared to have originated.

The medical records date from 1997-2013, and also include payment and insurance information, limited health history, addresses and phone numbers.

For former Today’s Vision employees, the records include days off, vacation requests, resumes and immigration status, among other information.

Glenz helped found Today’s Vision in Houston in 1984, and operated the Willowbrook location until last February, when he sold it to MyEyeDr.

Glenz continues to work at the office part time, Watson said.

“We are actively analyzing this and trying to understand where these records shown in the filming actually came from," Glenz told KPRC in an email. 

“I am unsure of the source of the records and have not yet seen them myself,” he added. “The privacy and care of patient information is a priority for our practice and this is a matter we will get to the root of.”

A MyEyeDr representative told KPRC over the phone that the company was investigating the matter.

It is unclear who tossed the records in the dumpster behind a strip mall in Tomball, miles from any Today’s Vision or MyEyeDr offices. Tomball Police are investigating the illegal dumping, and is holding the records in its evidence and property room.

The HHS Office For Civil Rights is investigating the HIPPA violations, with police assistance.

The HHS website suggested a few ways to dispose of medical, or otherwise sensitive documents:

Thus, covered entities are not permitted to simply abandon PHI or dispose of it in dumpsters or other containers that are accessible by the public or other unauthorized persons. However, the Privacy and Security Rules do not require a particular disposal method.

In general, examples of proper disposal methods may include, but are not limited to:

  • For PHI in paper records, shredding, burning, pulping, or pulverizing the records so that PHI is rendered essentially unreadable, indecipherable, and otherwise cannot be reconstructed.
  • Maintaining labeled prescription bottles and other PHI in opaque bags in a secure area and using a disposal vendor as a business associate to pick up and shred or otherwise destroy the PHI.
  • For PHI on electronic media, clearing (using software or hardware products to overwrite media with non-sensitive data), purging (degaussing or exposing the media to a strong magnetic field in order to disrupt the recorded magnetic domains), or destroying the media (disintegration, pulverization, melting, incinerating, or shredding).