LONDON, ONT. -- Six months after a privacy breach, new procedures are in place at the local health unit, and tensions with Middlesex County have turned to gratitude.

The Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) moved out of its former headquarters at 50 King St. in March, abandoning equipment and a vault of electronics.

After possession of the building reverted to Middlesex County, staff discovered documents containing personal information and personal health information that had been left behind.

“With the pandemic in place exactly when we were making that move, the step of doing a final walk through of the facility didn’t occur,” explains Medical Officer of Health, Dr Chris Mackie.

An internal investigation concluded Personal Information (PI) and Personal Health Information (PHI) was found on two hard drives left behind.

The data included information about 35 referrals, 530 clients of infant hearing and vision programs, and 150 MLHU volunteers

Paper documents left behind included information related to 270 people that were part of a food poisoning investigation.

All data was subsequently destroyed.

“The silver lining on this, if there is one, is that none of the information was made publicly accessible,” says Dr. Mackie. “A big credit (goes) to the municipal staff at the County of Middlesex who were able to make sure that none of that information was able to be made public.”

It’s a significant shift since the spring, when tensions ran high between the local health unit and Middlesex County.

On May 12, County CAO Bill Rayburn was asked by County Council for an update on efforts to clear out the building.

“We actually came across a document that is a Human Resources letter that fell out of one of the file folders which contained private and personal information about an individual,” Rayburn replied.

The MLHU then had a lawyer send a letter to Rayburn claiming, “Disclosure of that information in a public meeting could only have been for the purpose of embarrassing the MLHU and Dr Mackie.”

Six months later, the Medical Officer of Health says this about the incident.

“It’s clear that the County of Middlesex staff have handled this professionally and been able to protect privacy, so I’m very grateful for them.”

But does he regret the letter?

“That’s a letter that was sent by a lawyer. I can’t tell you all of the processes that came into place to make that decision,” adds Dr. Mackie. “It is important, when there are risks for the organization, that the organization is best protected as possible. I can’t say more about that.”

Next week, the move to CitiPlaza may be discussed further by the Board of Health as it wrestles with a $700,000 budget increase related to cost pressures at the new location and other inflationary increases.