On Tuesday, Palm Beach County, Fla., health director Jean Malecki reported that six more county health workers had opened an e-mail containing a confidential list identifying the names of HIV patients in the county. Two of the six workers printed the list but shredded it when they saw its contents. Sixteen employees are now known to have opened the e-mail, which was sent February 17. The list contained the names of about 4,000 AIDS patients and 2,500 HIV-positive people in the county.
John W. "Jack" Nolan, the county's top HIV statistician, accidentally attached the list to monthly reports he sent out to 800 employees. Upon discovering the mistake, officials quickly shut down the e-mail system. Malecki says the e-mail was available in the system for "a maximum of 10-12 minutes." She adds that county investigators found no evidence that the e-mail was saved, forwarded, or distributed outside the county system.
As soon as the Palm Beach County mistake was reported, the state health department began sending confidential files in separate e-mail folders, says spokeswoman Lindsay Hodges, a policy change made "statewide, not just for Palm Beach County."
The deliberate release of identities and medical information on HIV patients is classed as a third-degree felony. On Tuesday an investigator from the state health department's inspector general's office arrived and began interviewing Nolan and other employees. (AP)