SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente agreed to a $49 million settlement this month after state and local law enforcement found the health care giant disposed of confidential patient information, hazardous waste and medical waste including blood and body parts in regular trash streams.
“We saw bodily fluids and body parts that should not have been in the public waste stream,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said at a news conference Friday. “The settlement requires Kaiser to take significant steps and spend money to invest in preventing unlawful disposals from happening again in the future.”
District attorneys from Yolo, Alameda, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo and San Bernardino counties joined the state Department of Justice in the lawsuit, which was filed in San Joaquin Superior Court. Pamela Price, the district attorney for Alameda County, called the settlement “historic.”
Bonta said Kaiser Permanente was “extremely cooperative” with the investigation, which began in 2015 as undercover personnel from local district attorneys’ offices peeked into unsecured trash bins whose contents were headed straight to landfills. The health care provider conducted its own trash audits as it worked with authorities.
Bonta said some of the hazardous waste at the 16 facilities was combustible or could leach into the surrounding environment. Among other types of trash, they found aerosols, batteries, syringes, medical tubing with body fluids and pharmaceuticals.
During the news conference, Bonta noted that it “shouldn’t be overlooked that the communities who often live near landfills and transfer stations are disproportionately lower-income and people of color, meaning these vulnerable communities are most at risk from the potential water pollution, fires and toxic smoke-filled air that we’re talking about.”
Law enforcement also identified documents containing the confidential information of 7,700 patients. Kaiser violated state and federal law, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPAA.