Medical Records Sold As Scrap Paper

A fourth grade teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah, bought a box of scrap paper for $20 and discovered it was actually a box of medical records of 28 patients from Central Florida Regional Hospital. The hospital shipped the box via UPS to an audit company in Las Vegas last December. The hospital claims it had been tracking the box since February, but hadn’t told the patients. As for the teacher’s class, her next assignment for the students will be, “Apply for credit card offers using SSNs from the scrap paper box.”

The box “had a document indicating it was sold because the shipping company could not deliver it or find its owner,” and UPS told MSNBC that it keeps undeliverable packages for at least 3 months before liquidating them. What we can’t figure out is how three full months elapsed between early December, when the box was shipped, and the end of February, when the box had clearly already been liquidated and was being offered for resale by a private business.

(Thanks to Sarah!)

“Medical records sold to teacher as scrap paper” [MSNBC]
(Photo: Orin Optiglot)

Comments

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  1. laddibugg says:

    i swear I’m not blaming the victim, but teachers BUY scrap paper?

  2. crackblind says:

    @laddibugg: Yep, out of pocket too. You’d be amazed what teachers do to stretch the money they have to personally spend on classroom materials not supplied by the school.

  3. @laddibugg: Well you don’t expect the schools to provide the teachers with paper, do you?

    ;-)

  4. Pylon83 says:

    Indeed. This is what our education system has come to. Buying scrap paper. How much did we spend on bullets in the middle east today? Probably enough to by a number of schools NEW paper…

  5. CaptRavis says:

    But can buy 5000 sheets of clean white paper for $25.00, why save 5 and only get to color on one side?

  6. @CaptRavis: Do you know how much paper kids waste? I always used cheap scrap paper for students to write drafts, make drawings, compute math problems, or for art projects. Expensive clean white crisp paper has to be conserved for important things. Like for the homework kids forget to bring.

  7. jamar0303 says:

    Well, looks like this teacher’s going to get more than her money’s worth on this “scrap paper”.

  8. rockergal says:

    hmm at the print-shop I work at, we always have a pile of scrap-paper that we just give for free to anyone that wants it. Saves us the expense of getting rid of it.

  9. Kevin Cotter says:

    The kids could apply for credit cards, then buy fresh paper?

  10. mgy says:
  11. dweebster says:

    @rockergal: Second and third that. Spent my fair share of time in commercial printing establishments and there’s usually plenty of nice clean usable stock available for the taking. Pick up a phone, make a couple calls, and you’ll be amazed at how happy printers would be to help out your cause. Scrap paper and even older stuff that won’t run through a press well would probably make any teacher happy, even one that would actually be hairbrained enough to PAY for old medical records (aka “scrap paper”). Also, paper companies, even though heavily consolidated now, would probably be willing to drop off a skid of unneeded clean paper at your local printer – you can pay or they may even donate the cutting. Spend your $20 bucks on a couple martinis after work, dealing with kids and school bureaucracies all day can’t be easy.

    As for the architects of a health/sickness system that has been intentionally designed around (I believe illegally) using our unique government retirement account numbers as their account identifiers for us (while they ALSO serve as credit identifiers), there’s no place in hell too hot for your evil and stupid asses.

  12. kenblakely says:

    A teacher >>BUYING<< scrap paper indicates something of a poverty of imagination, I think. Besides, boxes of med records would be used on both sides, in bad shape, crinkled up, riddled with print-outs…in other words, relatively useless to a teacher. There’s gotta be more to this story. Any person that pays $20 for a box o’ scrap paper for kids isn’t smart enuf to be a teacher IMHO….

  13. kenblakely says:

    kjvgkv

  14. dazzlezak says:

    Hey maybe I’ll blackmail some people with their personal info.

    BTW-Those great people at UPS almost lost my Amazon shipment last week.

  15. f0nd004u says:

    @kenblakely: Actually, they only use one side. And most of the time, they only use half a sheet of paper. Medical offices eat and waste paper like nothing else. I worked in a surgical clinic.

  16. MercuryPDX says:

    @dweebster: Fourth it. :) If you stop by The Oregonian (newspaper) printing press, they will give you the end rolls of newsprint for free.

  17. paulo says:

    As a guy who used to work in the medical records department at a major hospital, I am not in the least bit surprised. I think the average person would be completely appalled to learn how poorly the records are kept and watched over. I personally would not want to have had my records kept at the hospital where I worked, but the terrifying thing is that we were apparently one of the better hospitals as far as record tracking was concerned. Records were routinely grossly misfiled and there was little to no quality control, records were constantly in the wrong patient’s folder or misplaced, it seems entirely plausible that they’d be “lost” into a scrap paper bin.

  18. kenblakely says:

    Nobody’s saying the story is implausible. Most of us are simply incredulous that there’s a teacher silly enuf to >>PAY<< for scrap paper, that’s all. It’s a crazy, mixed-up world…

  19. luz says:

    This is just weird. I’m in my 18th year of formal education and nobody but me has ever had to furnish my own paper or supplies. Hell, even in preschool we were expected to bring our own construction paper and Fiskars scissors. Maybe I unwittingly went to Ayn Rand School for Tots?

  20. Hoss says:

    So UPS has a dead mail center that sells undeliverable packages? Who knew? Maybe someone taped the to and from addy to the package and it came off. This still seems like serious mishandling by UPS all-around. Why was there no UPS coding on the box that can be traced back to the sender? And why would they sell documents? I mean, it’s not a box of ipods — it’s a box of sensitive documents!

  21. eskilla says:

    @luz: Huh. I went to Kindergarten through to 6th grade in Ann Arbor, MI, and we always got everything for free. Every year, we’d get multiple packs of pencils, crayons, erasers, and each classroom had a neverending pile of new, bleached-white paper. Even when we finally had book lists for 6th grade, there were plenty in-school copies to go around so nobody bought their own.

  22. Ryan Duff says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: I think you missed his point… She paid $20 for scrap paper. If she had only paid $5-10 it would be a different story. Besides, I’m sure for $20 she still didn’t get as many sheets as a full case (5000).

    Do the math…
    5000 sheets of one sided scrap paper (I’ll give benefit of doubt) x 1 side = 5000 uses
    5000 uses / $20 = $0.004/use.

    5000 sheets of new double sided paper = 10,000 uses
    10,000 uses / $25 = $0.0025/use.

    And for the math challenged… $0.0025 is less than $0.004

    It only pays to buy single sided scrap paper when the cost is half (or less) the cost of buying new, double sided paper.

  23. Mizzle fo Shizzle says:

    @Ryan Duff
    That math only works if you’re going to use both sides of double sided paper. I suspect that most of these kids will be scribbling something on one side, making a mistake, and then crumpling the whole thing up and throwing it away.

  24. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    @eskilla: My entire run through elementary, junior high, and high school was spent in public schools in Toledo, Ohio and I can’t recall a year when we *didn’t* have a laundry list of supplies at the beginning of each school year. Everything from paper to tissue boxes, crayons, pencils… pretty much everything except books.

  25. K-Bo says:

    @Diet-Orange-Soda: Same in NC public schools, I also can’t remember a year that teachers didn’t start begging for scrap paper when we got near the end of the semester because we had used our alloted paper. I graduated HS in 2001, and they had already started asking us to print out permission slips and handouts at home to save school paper. I imagine they do them all that way now.

  26. ColdNorth says:

    Wait a minute. How did this thread become a discussion on the price of scrap paper for educators?

    How sad is it that the collective reaction to the release of thousands of HIPA-protected documents is a big *yawn*?

    Perhaps if the hospital had been staffed by a bunch of moonlighting Geek Squad Agents there might have been more outrage?

  27. digitalgimpus says:

    @ColdNorth: Problem is, there’s no real expectation of privacy for medical information. It’s common knowledge it’s mishandled on a daily basis. And not just by hostpitals. By your doctors office, and by your insurance too. Some paperwork is outsourced too, there’s even reports of it going overseas (where there is no HIPPA protection btw).

    The real suprise here? The cost of scrap paper.

  28. ezacharyk says:

    @MercuryPDX: That is what I was thinking. Any newspaper will give you around a hundred feet of paper on an end roll for free. This is paper that they cannot use as it is not enough for a single printing of any page.

    AS for the medical records thing, if the hospital was tracking the package, wouldn’t they have known that the packages were not deleivered and then investigate? I know I would.

    I also wonder if the teacher will be reimbersed for her purchase. Those documents could have just as easily fallin into the hands of someoone with more evil purposes.

  29. erica.blog says:

    On the plus side this sounds like a huge fluke that it was sold as scrap. I’m typically more worried about the medical records being tossed out back in the dumpster or something.

    Seems like the only safe option is to never get sick and/or never go to the hospital :P

  30. Get in with a law firm and ask for drafts/spare copies of publicly-filed documents (everything from depositions to court transcripts to pleadings). These thing are often hundreds of pages long and only used on one side, and when the case is over, most of it (all the copies) has to be gotten rid of. (And shredding/disposal bills are already ridiculous from all the documents that DO have to be protected.)

    I grew up coloring on the back side of pleadings, they make great scrap. :)

  31. shan6 says:

    I guess the black market is so disguised now that this teacher didn’t even realize he wasn’t in his usual scrap-paper store.

  32. madanthony says:

    I’d love to know how I could buy UPS dead-letter packages.

    Especially after they lost 2 macbook pros from work a few months ago.

  33. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @kenblakely:

    Maybe they were making a worm bed?

    [growyourownearthworms.blogspot.com]

  34. RobinB says:

    With all the regulations we have to follow in banking regarding proper record disposal, I am extremely irritated (though not real surprised) that the medical industry doesn’t have to do the same.

  35. dotcomrade says:

    It’s downright scary that you can buy scrap paper containing your personal info.

    You can avoid this–did you know that when applying for health insurance you are NOT required to supply your Social Security number?

    Simply write on the application “not required by law” across that area on the form, followed by “assign unique number.”

    Of course, before you do this, you might want to call and check with enrollment to confirm their policy
    just so your coverage is not delayed–I just called Oxford and they confirmed that a SS# is not required.

    Also, when you visit your doctor or enter a hospital, use the “unique number” instead of your social security number.

    It’ll keep the Dumpster divers guessing.

  36. DrGirlfriend says:

    @RobinB: They do need to do the same. It’s just that this particular hospital either didn’t, or messed up.

    I work at a hospital and *all paper* has to be disposed of in a locked recycling container, which then gets shredded. We take HIPAA very seriously. ;)

  37. K-Bo says:

    @Pylon83: While I agree money spent in the middle east could be better spent, It is much more environmentally friendly to use scrap paper rather than cutting down new trees.

  38. elislider says:

    that would have had to be a pretty large box of scrap paper for me to spend $20 on it. you know you can RECYCLE paper for FREE nowadays?

  39. geoelectric says:

    So, given that UPS packages can be open and inspected at any time, isn’t it a gross violation of HIPAA to ship using them?

  40. witeowl says:

    @laddibugg: Ummmm…. you’re not blaming the victim. If anything, you’re making a tangential remark about the state of the education system and the apparent lack of support for teachers and their classroom needs.

    Teacher? –> not a victim

    People who unwittingly had their medical and financial confidentiality breached through inept hospital and/or shipping company? –> victims

  41. lalayang says:

    @eskilla: I am completely not surprised by either your experience, or someone who had to pay for their own supply at school. This is the GAP we are observing in America today. In fact, Ann Arbor is one of the richer towns in US – not everywhere is as well off as Ann Arbor.

  42. @Ryan Duff: No you missed the point: it’s called sarcasm.

  43. luz says:

    @ColdNorth: I was just adding my voice to the “weird that a teacher was buying paper for her kids” chorus. I’m poor, which means everyone on earth knows I’m unhealthy and broke, so I don’t get as het up about stuff like this, I s’pose.

  44. CaptRavis says:

    Sadly on point today. A daycare adjecent to the post office where I was checking my mail was throwing out banker boxes of trash, intrigued, I walked over as they went back in for a 2nd load. Yes, it was parents SSN and financials, kids and grandparent name and phone numbers, places of employment ,and on and on. Applications to the school for the past few years. I should have bought some scrap paper from them.

  45. maximeyocks says:

    What I don’t get is how all of you hard-core Consumerists who post ASAP when a story is hot off the presses can’t address the reall issue. Um HELLLLOOOOO! Medical friggin Records. I’m more angry at the previous posters who got all worked up over the freaking cost of paper! Get a life. This is about crazy stuff happening in our society, like OUR MEDICAL RECORDS AS SCRAP PAPER!! Jeez people. You truly disappoint me. What happened to the people who used to use their intellect and brain before posting utter nonsense.