A former Kansas abortion provider isn't likely to face criminal charges for discarding hundreds of patients' private medical records in a recycling bin outside an elementary school, but anti-abortion lawmakers called Tuesday for the state Legislature to investigate.
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said he doesn't expect to pursue a criminal case against Krishna Rajanna, who confirmed that he left records from Affordable Medical and Surgical Services in a school recycling bin blocks from his home in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. The Kansas City, Kan., clinic closed in 2005, shortly after the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians, revoked Rajanna's Kansas medical license.
Howe said his office will examine whether Rajanna's actions violated state consumer protection laws, which are enforced through civil lawsuits, and it may contact federal officials about potential violations of patient privacy laws.
Meanwhile, the Board of Healing Arts' general counsel said it will consider going to court to have an outside custodian take possession of any remaining records from the clinic. Rajanna told The Associated Press he still has documents stored in his home.
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.
Rajanna said when he discarded the documents Friday in the recycling bin, he expected it to be emptied quickly.
"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 documents were discovered Saturday by a woman who was dumping materials for recycling. She contacted local police, who initially didn't respond, then her daughter, a nurse. The daughter contacted The Kansas City Star, which reported their discovery ( http://bit.ly/GVUz7Z).
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.
But Howe said, "We don't believe at this point, based on the information that we have, any criminal charges will be filed."
Rajanna did not return a telephone message left at his home Tuesday afternoon, seeking a response to Howe's statements and legislators' comments.
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.
"This was the first time that I'd used it," Rajanna said.
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."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com