** THIS STORY WAS UPDATED AUGUST 14, 2014: http://wavy.com/2014/08/14/woman-wont-be-charged-for-medical-records-left-on-curb/
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Medical records left by a curb are now in the hands of Portsmouth police.
A 10 On Your Side viewer called to alert us about the boxes of records in front of a house on Atlanta avenue. The viewer thought they’d been there for at least a day. Inside the boxes were thousands of documents, including names, addresses, social security numbers and medical information.
Each box was labeled with a name and address: the name was Erica Steele, the address was for Essential Wellness Center off Independence Boulevard in Virginia Beach.
So WAVY.com went looking for her.
Steele said she is in the process of moving and hired a cleaning company to clean the house. She said she didn’t know the boxes were outside until 10 On Your Side told her and that they must have been put on the curb by mistake by the cleaning crew.
“I’m very upset about this situation,” she said. “It seems like I’m doing this negligently, that this was my intention and it never was my intention at all. It just makes me really upset because if I were one of those people, I wouldn’t want my stuff out there, too. I take full responsibility for everything that happens with my business. I put my heart and my soul into everything that I do here. I wouldn’t be in natural medicine otherwise. I’m truly sorry. I’ll be more careful.”
Steele gave WAVY.com the name of the cleaning company, and we tried to find them to get their side of the story, but had no luck.
“I thought it was a joke,” said Courtney Cabigon, a former customer of Steele. “I’m still kind of, I mean it just blows my mind it absolutely blows my mind how anything like this could happen. Working in the medical field, we don’t take charts home. You got my phone number from somewhere, and you could tell me where I lived and everything — that’s scary.”
Steele told 10 On Your Side the records were from several years and she had plans to have them shredded next week.
Portsmouth police picked up the documents after WAVY.com called them, and a police report has been filed. If police think a crime may have been committed, a detective will be assigned to the case.
WAVY.com spoke with the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Health and Human Services Friday afternoon. After hearing about the situation, a spokesperson said it does not appear to be a violation of HIPPA laws, but it could violate state privacy laws.
10 On Your Side learned Erica Steele has had issues before.
In February 2013, her license to practice as a massage therapist was suspended by the Virginia Board of Nursing for at least a year and remains suspended today. The board’s findings said Steele referred to herself as a doctor in her business and in advertisements. The Board of Nursing found at the time she did not hold a license to practice medicine, nor did she hold any other doctoral degrees that entitled her to call herself a doctor.