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State gives update on Lakeshore records probe

12:01 AM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
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The state is revealing more details into its investigation as to why hundreds of patients' records were in an abandoned building on the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.

In April, former Lakeshore employee Hilda Lindeman found the records lying in the abandoned Waterside building during an afternoon jog. The papers she found included the social security numbers, case numbers and birthdates of former patients. The names on the records dated back as far as 1995.

On Wednesday, the State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) fulfilled a public records request sought by 10News in regards to the investigation.

The state sent 10News 172 pages of documents containing emails and pictures.

Previous Story: Confidential Patient Records Found in Former Lakeshore Building

They revealed the state had acted swiftly once it discovered patient records were still in the building. Emails show the night Lindeman found the records, TDMHSAS spokesperson Michael Rabkin contacted TDMHSAS Commissioner Doug Varney with the request that someone immediately check the building for the confidential records. The next morning, the state cleared the records from the Waterside building, just before shredding the documents and putting up "No Trespassing" sigsn.

A subsequent email from a TDMHSAS security chief showed no other patient records were found in any other Lakeshore buildings.

However, questions remain as to why the documents were in the facility.

"We're still unclear about a lot of things, I'm not sure if we're ever going to know how they got there or how they turned up there," Rabkin said.

The state said it is still not sure if the records were in Waterside when the building closed in 1996. Rabkin said they might have been placed there at a later date.

"We know that last year in 2012, people were arrested for trespassing and loitering on private property in the waterside building and no documents were seen and discovered during that incident," he said.

10News contacted the Knoxville Police Department about that incident. KPD spokesperson Darrell Debusk said the department could not recall such a case.

Following 10News' story on the initial discovery, emails show the state soon worked to find out just how much personal information was left vulnerable.

May 1, Heather Gundersen, the assistant commissioner of administrative services with TDMHSAS, sent an email to the CEOs of other mental health institutes across the state.

It read, "CEOs: please make sure you don't have any confidential records left in any unsecured, old buildings."

Just two days later, a state employee reported that he found at least 20 boxes of records in the abandoned Roberts Hall building at the Clover Bottom Campus of the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute.

"They (the records) were left behind, they were left there," Rabkin said.

The records dated back to the 1980s. Emails show the state reviewed them after their discovery to decide which ones to destroy.

So far, Rabkin said the state has no reason to believe anyone misused or took any of the records that were found at either campus. He said he has not heard from any patients, or their families, regarding the records discovery.

He added the state is still waiting to hear from the attorney general's office if any action needs to be taken, if someone comes forward saying they're a victim of criminal activity related to the records.

The city of Knoxville is also expected to gain ownership of the Lakeshore campus from the state soon, according to the deputy to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Christi Branscom.

She said the city has already been in some of the buildings and is aware a few hold hazardous materials. The state revealed black mold and asbestos had been found in the Waterside building.

"The plan is to remove all of the hazmat with professionals and then we will be taking all of those buildings down."

Mayor Rogero previously announced she had allocated $5 million in the city budget toward demolishing Lakeshore buildings. The city is currently discussing what should go in their place.

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