88,000 patients at risk after computer theft

May 1, 2008

By Glenn Nyback


Computer equipment stolen from an administrative office in Rosebank in December contained personal information about 88,000 patients who have been treated at Staten Island University Hospital.

After four months with no arrests, hospital administrators are just now beginning the process of sending letters to patients whose names, Social Security and health insurance numbers were contained in computer files on a desktop computer and a backup hard drive stolen Dec. 29 from one of the hospital's finance offices at 1 Edgewater Plaza.

"The hospital is in the process of issuing a letter of information to each patient involved in which one year of free credit monitoring is being offered," said a hospital statement released yesterday afternoon by spokeswoman Arleen Ryback. The time frame for when patients whose information was included in the data were treated was not immediately known.

Ms. Ryback said no medical records were included in the files, but wouldn't speculate why SIUH waited so long to notify people.

"I'm not going to get into that," she said.

That explanation didn't sit well with Islanders, according to posts on silive.com, the Advance's home on the Web.

"After 4 months? Why did it take so long, Ms. Ryback? and now your going to offer to watch peoples credit ? I hope they sue your pants off," one reader, goaway12, posted yesterday.

Another poster, using the Internet handle averagedude, asked, "where was security?" and a third, going by the name youbetchabar, joked, "4 months is about the same amount of time it takes to get called in the ER," poking fun at the waiting time for emergency patients.

Police described the suspect -- caught on a surveillance camera -- as a black man between 30 and 40 years old. The man is seen walking out carrying the computer equipment in a cardboard box. Ms. Ryback said the hospital does not suspect it was an inside job, but would not say whether any employees who work in the office fit that description.

A police spokeswoman said no arrests have been made in the case.

The hospital statement further said that "at this time, there is no reason to believe that patient information from the stolen computer has been misused." Ms. Ryback said that, while the motive for the theft is open to question, it appears that it might have been purely for the value of the equipment.

"We take this opportunity to offer our apologies to the patients who are affected by the theft," the hospital statement read. "We reassure our patients and community that, as always, we regard patient confidentiality as one of our highest priorities, and in this regard, we are working to take additional steps to protect patient information and to reduce the possibility of computer theft in the future."

Without elaborating, Ms. Ryback said that "all you can do is be more security-conscious."

Each year, about 100,000 patients visit SIUH's two emergency departments, in Ocean Breeze and Prince's Bay. Hundreds of thousands of people are treated through the hospital system's outpatient services annually.

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