2 Investigates: Hundreds of patients’ medical records allegedly left outside for weeks

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray, along with two producers, found boxes of medical records on the side of Snapfinger Woods Family Practice on Snapfinger Woods Drive in DeKalb County in November 2019.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Dates of birth, Social Security numbers and addresses -- all exposed.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray, along with two producers, found boxes of medical records on the side of Snapfinger Woods Family Practice on Snapfinger Woods Drive in DeKalb County in November 2019.

The boxes contained private information of hundreds of patients.

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“It’s just patient after patient after patient,” Gray said.

Nicole Johnson, a former employee at the clinic, emailed Channel 2 Action News about the boxes.

It was a start to a monthslong look into how the boxes got there, and it led to more questions about the metro Atlanta medical practice.

“Why are you speaking out about this?” Gray asked Johnson.

“Because it’s the right thing to do. Nobody’s records, personal information needs to be out. Nobody’s,” Johnson said.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, was designed to protect patient health information. The law demands that health care providers follow national standards for the protection of certain health information.

Johnson told Gray she started working at the office Oct. 8 and the records were already sitting outside.

“And everyone had no answers. Even when you asked the office manager, she said, ‘Well, I don’t know what Dr. Walker wants to do,'" Johnson said.

Dr. Maria Walker owns the office, but most of the records came from her previous practice, Piedmont Minor Emergency Clinic in Buckhead. That clinic is permanently closed.

Before contacting some of the victims, Gray called 911. It took several DeKalb police officers and multiple police vehicles to haul the records away.

One of those records belonged to Demarcus Jenkins.

“I had to go there to get a hepatitis shot before I went to India,” Jenkins said.

He told Channel 2 Action News he was surprised and shocked to know his information was left out in the open.

Gray tracked down former patient, Keisha Arnold-Kellog in East Point.

“That’s your Social Security number there?” Gray asked. “Yes sir. This is not good because this is all my information,” Arnold-Kellog said.

While looking into the possible HIPPA violations, Channel 2 Action News found several unpaid Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations from Walker’s Piedmont facility.

OSHA’s job is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions. The serious violations are for blood-borne pathogens, specifically hepatitis. They’ve been sent to collections.

OSHA told Channel 2 Action News it does not have the authority to prohibit an employer from shuttering one business and opening another without paying OSHA fines.

The Federal Health and Human Services inspector general can levy civil penalties for violating HIPPA laws.

Arnold-Kellog filed a complaint with the agency regarding her exposed information.

Channel 2 Action News tried for months to contact Walker before finally showing up at her office. She wasn’t there.

Gray spoke with Walker’s attorney by phone, but he didn’t answer any questions.

Channel 2’s consumer adviser Clark Howard said while they may ask for it, never provide a Social Security number to a doctor’s office.

“Protect yourself by never ever not ever filling in your Social Security number on that from,” Howard said.