Commonwealth Health Hack, More ID Safety Concerns

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Newswatch 16 has learned that several of the medical clinics in our area that Commonwealth Health said were victims of a cyber attack have actually been closed for years.

At least five of those six facilities that Commonwealth Health said had patient information stolen have no working phone, no listed address, and in some cases, folded or merged with other medical clinics several years ago.

Wyoming Valley Surgical Associates is listed at the Kingston Medical Building. A worker at another medical office in the building said that business dissolved more than ten years ago.

We got similar information when we tried to track down the six clinics Commonwealth Health identified as being breached this spring by overseas hackers.

"It`s an absolute disaster.  It will be a Christmas miracle if they avoid a lawsuit," said Attorney Jason Mattioli.

A pair of area patient advocate lawyers said Community Health Systems, the parent company of Commonwealth Health, could have a hard time even finding some patients from these clinics.

"God knows the money and the resources that this company is going to have to spend that could have gone to patient care," Mattioli said.

"If the patient calls a closed clinic and there`s no number, that presents a whole host of problems," said Attorney Peter Paul Olszewski.

And those patients who want help, have to wait. If they call the hotline Community Health Systems has set up in the wake of the security breach they get a message saying the line won't open until August 20 at 8 a.m. Central time.

Olszewski also questions Community Health Systems' promise to provide patients with identity theft insurance. He asks how long will potential victims be protected?

"Those social security numbers can be sold five, ten, maybe fifteen years down the road.  So is the insurance policy going to be in effect then?" Olszewski asked.

The hacking incident follows Community Health's payment of a $98 million fine after the justice department accused it of overbilling patients.

And last month, nurses at the chain`s largest hospital in our area,  Wilkes-Barre General, went on strike claiming the company endangered patient safety by forcing them to work overtime.

"There needs to be more information coming from Commonwealth Health about not only what was done, but more importantly, what they are going to do," Olszewski said.

We left a message, and asked the company by email how many patients locally may have had their personal information stolen.

We wanted to know why it is not staffing its hotline for patients until tomorrow, of if it plans to offer ID theft protection for a short term, or for the life of the patient. So far, we have received no answers.