Indiana attorney general files charges against pharmacies
Originally posted 9/17/04; Updated 9/21/07
Bob Segall/13 Investigates
Indianapolis - The nation's largest drug store chains are facing disciplinary action after Indiana's attorney general filed formal complaints against them for failing to protect customer privacy.
The complaints were filed in response to WTHR's 2006 Prescription Privacy investigation, which revealed pharmacies around the nation improperly disposed of confidential patient information in their unsecured dumpsters. WTHR found thousands of patient records while checking hundreds of pharmacy dumpsters nationwide.
Fourteen months after the "Prescription Privacy" investigation, the attorney general's office says it has completed its own investigation.
Attorney General Steve Carter filed 36 complaints with the Indiana State Board of Pharmacy. Ten of the complaints name CVS-operated drug stores, six have been filed against Walgreens pharmacies, and two name locally-owned independent pharmacies for violating state and federal privacy laws. The remaining complaints have been filed against the pharmacists in charge of the drug stores at the time of WTHR's reports.
Most of the complaints were filed August 31 and were recently made public on the website of the Indiana Pharmacy Board. The attorney general followed his original charges with complaints against two Evansville pharmacies on September 21. Those complaints were prompted by a news report on WEHT-TV last December that found Walgreens and CVS stores in the Evansville area had not corrected the problems exposed six months earlier by WTHR.
State regulators have not ruled out the possibility of formal action against additional pharmacies. "There could more complaints coming," said Staci Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Indiana attorney general's office.
The complaints allege the pharmacies lacked adequate policies to protect patients' sensitive records and that "pharmacy staff carelessly included private health information with general trash rather than destroy this protected information in a manner designed to properly safeguard patients' privacy."
Indiana law requires that pharmacies guard against the release of confidential patient healthcare information and protect the identity and location of recipients of controlled substances. At each of the drug stores named in the state complaints, WTHR found patients' names, addresses, healthcare treatment information and other personal information in unsecured dumpsters.
The formal complaints also include some comments from the drug stores and their pharmacists.
CVS told the attorney general's office that its employees have been fully trained in privacy rules, locks have been added to all dumpsters, and that company-wide trash policies have been re-issued to all CVS pharmacies.
A Walgreens senior attorney explained to the attorney general's office that his company has procedures to protect customer information and that those procedures were "recently reinforced with all employees in the Indianapolis market."
A separate statement sent to WTHR says "Walgreens takes these allegations very seriously. We are fully prepared to respond to the Board and demonstrate the numerous actions we have taken to successfully solve this issue."
CVS also provided a statement to WTHR in which the company says, "We have cooperated fully with the Attorney General's investigation into this matter." CVS used the statement to once again apologize for its mishandling of patient records and to emphasize the strengthened policies it has implemented since last summer.
But the actions by Walgreens and CVS after WTHR's investigation were not enough to prevent the state from filing formal action. The "remedial actions do not negate the severity of this patient confidentiality breach," according to the attorney general's complaints.
Locally-owned pharmacies responded by taking responsibility for their privacy lapses.
According to a complaint filed against Low Cost Rx pharmacy on the south side of Indianapolis, chief pharmacist Terry Cole stated that his pharmacy has implemented new policies since WTHR's investigation, and he said, "I have to take blame" for the privacy violations.
The state's complaint against Lloyd Tucker, owner and manager of Tucker Pharmacy, states that Tucker admitted he and his pharmacy "did breach patients' right to privacy under HIPAA regulations." He also said "since this discovery we have completely changed our procedures of trash disposal."
The Indiana State Board of Pharmacy has not yet set dates for public disciplinary hearings, but board director Marty Allain says it is possible that some or all of the cases could be resolved quickly.
"The board does offer settlement conferences," Allain said. "Our hope is that these cases can be settled before disciplinary hearings are necessary."
Each of the pharmacies and pharmacists named in the 28 complaints faces penalties that range from a letter of reprimand to probation, suspension or revocation of their pharmacy license. In addition, Indiana law permits fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
Danielle Miller, the mother of a three-year-old boy whose healthcare information was found by WTHR in a CVS dumpster, believes action against the licenses of pharmacies and their staff would send a stronger message than fines.
"Anybody can pay a $1,000 fine," Miller said. "That's a slap on the hand... I think they should be suspended. I want the pharmacies to protect us. If you can't protect us, we're going to take our business elsewhere."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Civil Rights launched its own investigation into Indiana prescription privacy complaints following last year's reports on WTHR. The OCR office has not yet announced whether federal charges will be filed against any pharmacies.
Related links and other resources:
The state of Indiana has filed complaints against the following:
5611 Georgetown Road, Indianapolis
5472 Georgetown Road, Indianapolis (former Osco, now closed)
5502 W. 38th Street, Indianapolis
9550 Allisonville Road, Indianapolis
8330 Crawfordsville Road, Indianapolis
8935 E. 21st Street, Indianapolis
13050 Publishers Drive, Fishers
1825 Albany Street, Beech Grove
1390 S. Rangeline Road, Carmel (former Osco, now closed)
2344 Covert Ave., Evansville
4301 N. First Street, Evansville
1505 E. 86th Street, Indianapolis
5199 N. Keystone Avenue, Indianapolis
4555 N. Shadeland Avenue, Indianapolis
9050 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis
3205 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis
Low Cost Rx, 8375 Madison Avenue, Indianapolis
Tucker Pharmacy, 1650 E. Raymond Street, Indianapolis
Todd David Chappell
John Steven Miller III
Adiam Hago Adal
Troy Michael Martin