Sensitive files disorganized, missing at VB human services department

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – 10 On Your Side has learned that files containing clients’ personal information are disorganized and missing from the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services.

A confidential department source furnished WAVY News with images of files piling up on desks, in boxes and on the floors of work spaces, along with internal messages from staff concerned about the problem.

The documents involved are case files and other forms relating to SNAP, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“It’s very concerning,” said department client Asia Owens, who has a child in the system. “To know that his information in the system and not handled with care is very concerning to me.”

A department spokeswoman said the city has hired management consultant Deloitte to collaborate on a plan to convert to an electronic filing system that would scan forms. Currently, human services documents are on hard copy paper files.

“We have procedures in place, we encourage staff to follow those procedures, and yes, we know that managing paper files is cumbersome, but it’s going to be short-lived,” said communications coordinator Alice Testerman.

Katie Turner had just moved to the area and was enrolling with human services for the first time when she saw the pictures of disorganized files. “That really kind of scares me,” she said.

Our source also told us about so-called “orphan” files that can’t be matched to original case files. One agent has 30 of these — and there are about 70 agents in the department.

So we asked the department spokeswoman about the extent of missing and unmatched files, and she was unable to tell us during our interview. Testerman then clarified her response to say, “Even one would be too many. Our goal is to not have any.”

Employees have spoken out about the problem on internal message boards. They described how personal client information “goes missing, never to be seen again.”

The department says part of the problem is just human error.

“It’s up to staff to accept individual responsibility for maintaining files,” Testerman said.

The state has mandated that human services departments convert to electronic filing this fall, if they have not already done so. Chesapeake, for example, is making that conversion over the next several weeks. Norfolk has had electronic scanning for several years.

Virginia Beach Human Services says it’s on track to have electronic filing in place by the end of September. In the meantime, clients remain concerned.

“It’s scary, just to see that my information could be anywhere,” said Cris Waite.

“I still need the benefits at the end of the day,” Owens said. “But I’m still highly upset.”

“We are very conscientious about protecting confidentiality of information. We take the privacy of the citizens that come to our doors very seriously,” Testerman said.

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