A Renison University College master of social work student has been fined $25,000 for accessing personal health information while on placement.
Provincial officials say this is the highest penalty ever given for breaching private health information in Canada.
According to public court records obtained by the Ryersonian, Shana Barnim, 48, pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining the personal health information of five people while she was on placement at the Clinton Family Health Team in Huron County.
This is illegal under the Personal Health Information Protection Act.
At the time, Barnim was a registered social worker with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Services Worker as well as a student in the master program of social work at Renison University College.
Renison University is an affiliate of the University of Waterloo.
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish said in a statement that this judgment should send a message to Ontario’s health-care system.
“Health-care professionals need to know that this kind of behaviour, whether it’s snooping out of curiosity or for personal gain, is completely unacceptable and has serious consequences,” he said.
According to the court document, the charges are for accessing individuals’ records that were not under Barnim’s care. They included a manager who she had a falling out with as well as Barnim’s husband.
As part of her plea, Barnim admitted to accessing 139 peoples’ personal health information from the beginning of her placement on Sept. 9, 2014 to her termination on March 4, 2015.
These people include children and their families, her own family members, high profile members of the community and deceased people.
In a statement, the justice of the peace said her reasoning for such a high fine was because of the impact this had on the victims: “I believe this is a truly significant factor, given that we all must believe that when we go to the doctor for our physical illnesses and our mental health illnesses, that we will be able to trust our own health care,” she said.