State investigation: Oklahoma VA didn’t violate privacy laws

August 12, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t violate privacy laws when it allowed medical aides to search patients’ records on their cellphones, according to a state investigation.

Mark Gower, the state’s chief information security officer, wrote a memo that said the practice doesn’t violate state or federal privacy laws, The Oklahoman reported.

An internet outage on July 25 prevented employees at VA centers in Norman and Lawton from accessing medical records, Gower said. The agency granted employees the authority to use their smartphones to access records. The access was secure and limited to a small number of employees, Gower said.

“The (records system) does not store a local copy of data on the device when it is accessed and it does not cache data on the device, meeting security requirements,” Gower wrote in the memo to Veterans Affairs Executive Director Doug Elliott.

Elliott said the switch to mobile access allowed for hundreds of patients to continue receiving important medications. He said 150 VA employees have registered for medical privacy training following the incident.

Veterans Affairs requested the investigation after allegations from three Democratic lawmakers that the practice could cost Oklahoma millions in federal funding. The lawmakers, Reps. Brian Renegar, Chuck Hoskin and David Perryman, said they also sent their concerns to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a federal prosecutor.

“The federal government’s going to be the one to determine this, not some state agency helping another state agency wash their hands of what they did,” Renegar said.

Elliott also requested that that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigate the issue. He’s criticized the Democratic legislators for their allegations.

“It’s an environment of no tolerance and it’s clearly motivated by something other than caring for veterans,” Elliott said.

The lawmakers also recently called for the firing of two Veterans Affairs leaders.

Elliott has been under scrutiny since a state audit found that the agency suffers from toxic leadership. Elliot alleged the auditors were biased and focused on negative comments from disgruntled employees.


Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

Update hourly