TOPEKA, Kan. — Anti-abortion lawmakers called Tuesday for the Kansas Legislature to investigate after a former abortion provider discarded hundreds of patients' private medical records in a paper recycling bin outside an elementary school in the Kansas City area.
The general counsel for the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians and doctor's offices, said it will consider going to court to have an outside custodian take possession of any remaining records from the Affordable Medical and Surgical Services in Kansas City, Kan.
The clinic shut down in 2005, shortly after its doctor, Krishna Rajanna, lost his Kansas medical license. Rajanna said then that he still had documents stored in his home in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park.
The discovery of the documents in the recycling bin prompted an investigation by local police, the Johnson County district attorney's office and the state regulatory board. Rajanna said he discarded the documents Friday in the recycling bin, outside an elementary school a few blocks from his home, expecting the bin to be emptied quickly.
The documents were discovered Saturday by a woman who was dumping materials for recycling. She contacted her daughter, a nurse, who contacted The Kansas City Star, which reported their discovery.
The Star reported that the woman found more than 1,000 records, and Rajanna confirmed that he left about that number in the bin. The Star said the records contained names, birth dates, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and the patients' health histories, including whether any abortions were performed, for patients from almost every county in the Kansas City area and beyond, from Topeka to Freeman, Mo.
Rajanna's actions were condemned by advocates on both sides of the abortion debate. In recent years, Kansas has seen intense legal and political disputes over whether giving authorities access to information in medical records for investigations of providers would violate patients' privacy.
Several lawmakers who oppose abortion said the Legislature should investigate to determine whether Kansas law, which requires providers to keep patients' records for at least 10 years, adequately protects privacy when patient records are discarded or adequately punishes providers who dispose of documents improperly.
"It definitely needs to be investigated," said House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said Tuesday that he doesn't expect to file criminal charges against Rajanna. But he said his office will examine whether Rajanna's actions violated state consumer protection laws, which are enforced through civil lawsuits.
Howe also said he may contact federal officials about potential violations of patient privacy laws.
The Star reported that after editors consulted with an attorney, one of its reporters gathered up the documents from the recycling bin and transported them by car to the newspaper's offices in downtown Kansas City, Mo., where they were kept in a locked cabinet, with access limited to reporters and editors working on its story.
The Star said it collected and secured the records to protect patients' privacy and recorded no personal information. It later turned the documents over to the Board of Healing Arts.
Hundreds of the records were dated after March 2002, The Star reported. Rajanna said he has been keeping his files for 10 years, as required by law, and was discarding ones older than that. He also suggested the materials should have remained in the recycling bin for disposal.
"We could burn them up, I suppose, but that just puts more carbon into the air," he said. "Recycling would be the better way."
The Board of Healing Arts revoked Rajanna's license in 2005 after fining or disciplining him four times since 2000. An inspector who made two surprise visits to his clinic in 2005 reported the facility was unclean and that it kept syringes of medications in an unlocked refrigerator. The inspector also reported finding a dead mouse.
Kelli Stevens, the board's general counsel, said because Rajanna is no longer a licensed physician, the board's jurisdiction over him is limited, though he still has legal obligations to keep medical records confidential. She said the board's main concern now is the proper disposal of older records and the security of records less than 10 years old.
"It's a very odd position to be in," she said. "There's a little bit of a gap in the law."
Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican and abortion rights supporter, was skeptical of the need for legislators to step in, but Siegfreid said they need to consider whether Kansas laws should be strengthened.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican who opposes abortion, said, "On its face, it's concerning."