OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – More than 1,000 private abortion records from a defunct clinic have been found discarded in a recycling bin outside an elementary school near Kansas City, Kan., prompting a police investigation and outrage from people on both sides of the abortion debate.
The patient records found Saturday came from Affordable Medical and Surgical Services in Kansas City, Kan., which closed after its doctor, Krishna Rajanna, lost his medical license in 2005.
The records detail names, birth dates, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and the patients' health history, including if any abortions were performed, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/GVUz7Z). They included patients from almost every county in the Kansas City area and beyond, from Topeka to Freeman, Mo.
Between 2000 and 2005, Rajanna was either fined or disciplined four times by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts and inspectors who visited his clinic in 2005 and reported it was not clean.
Rajanna said he threw the personal documents into recycling bins at Brookridge Elementary School on Friday.
"I was under the impression that these would not be seen by anyone," said Rajanna. "I thought that these would be recycled away just like any other papers."
The daughter of the woman who found the records contacted the Kansas City Star after Overland Park police initially declined to respond to her call – a decision Capt. Erik Hulse later conceded was a mistake. The women did not want their names released.
Overland Park police were investigating and other agencies, including the Johnson County district attorney's office and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, were seeking information about the handling of the documents.
Kansas law requires that all medical records be kept a minimum of 10 years. Hundreds of the discarded records were dated after March 2002, The Star said. Rajanna said he dumped the records because they were "old records that are out of date" and that he thought they would be picked up quickly. The bins are emptied monthly.
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, makes it a federal violation to release private medical information without patient permission or other authorization. The law does not dictate exactly how medical records should be destroyed but it specifically prohibits discarding records in public dumpsters unless they have been made unreadable.
"This is a particularly egregious matter to have abortion records treated in this fashion," said Susan McAndrew, a deputy director in U.S. Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights. "I'm glad this man is no longer practicing."
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said it was another example of how abortion providers don't really care about women.
"This shows they don't have any real concern about women's privacy," Culp said. "What they have concern about is their own bottom line and distracting the public about privacy issues in order to avoid genuine investigations."
Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, called the dumping of the records "awful."
"What a gross violation of a woman's privacy," he said. "I've never heard anything quite like it."
Brownlie said that his organization retains abortion records in secure long-term storage "forever."
It is unclear what actions might be taken against Rajanna. Medical providers that don't transmit payment or other information to third-party payers electronically are not subject to HIPAA regulations. On Monday, Rajanna said his clinic was cash-only, although some of the retrieved records clearly showed photocopies of insurance cards on the back page, The Star reported.
McAndrew said that the HHS office in Kansas City would have to determine whether to investigate.
"It does get tricky because he is no longer practicing and the clinic is no longer in existence," McAndrew said. "Even fining him, it could end up being an empty enforcement action. I'm not even sure what kind of assets he might have."