Over 100 fertility patients had data breached by N.L. Health Services

Two smiling women stand next to each other in their living room.
Julia Collins, left, and Kelsey Puddister-Collins are two of over 100 people who had their privacy breached by Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services on Tuesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

When Kelsey Puddister-Collins opened an email from Newfoundland and Labrador Fertility Services on Tuesday, she said she was mortified to see the names and email addresses of over 100 people on the email list.

Puddister-Collins’ information was among those shared in a data breach. The email was a survey about her experience in receiving the province’s fertility subsidy, which people can avail of when travelling out of province for procedures like in vitro fertilization.

“I realized that I was carbon copied with 126 other people. So they forgot to [blind carbon copy] us in the email, and so all of our emails were kind of just all out there,” Puddister-Collins told CBC News on Wednesday. “First and last names, and emails for everyone to see.”

Puddister-Collins has been vocal in her fertility journey with her partner, Julia Collins, but said she felt for those on the list who are keeping their journey private — some of whom have reached out to her feeling angry and violated.

“Some people are not wanting other people to know about that in such a vulnerable situation, which makes so much sense,” she said.

“So many people are in the middle of a fertility cycle, already so stressed, so taxed with the physical and mental struggles of doing these cycles already. To have this on top of what is already an extremely difficult process is just overwhelming for so many people. I cannot believe that I’m having to advocate for my privacy on top of access to fertility services.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services issued a news release Wednesday, apologizing for the breach it says affected 116 people. Collins told CBC News it affected 126 people. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has also been notified, the release said.

A hand scrolls through an email on an IPhone.
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services offered an apology on Wednesday, but Puddister-Collins says that’s not enough. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

“As an organization, we take our responsibility as a custodian of personal health information very seriously,” N.L. Health Services CEO David Diamond said in the statement.

“It is a priority to make sure our employees and physicians are aware of their obligation for protecting the information of our clients, patients and residents.”

Puddister-Collins hasn’t deleted the email, and intends to show it to her lawyer to make sure an incident like this doesn’t happen again.

“Lots of times, of course, we need to shed light on something for someone to take notice, for action to be made,” she said.

“I think that this is me trying to do that, and trying to advocate for all of those people who may not want to speak out, but are really hurt today.”

The provincial government reissued a request for proposals to review fertility services in June. Health Minister Tom Osborne told CBC News at the time, government hopes to expand what’s already available.

Puddister-Collins said the province has overpromised and under delivered for some time, adding much more needs to be done.

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of only two provinces not offering in vitro fertilization.

“The people in our province deserve to feel supported by our government in fighting for their families, and that’s what we’re doing,” Puddister-Collins said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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