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Townsend workers to get medical-privacy training after violation

Several Townsend residents wore shirts supporting the police department at the Selectmen meeting Tuesday. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/CHRIS LISINSKI

TOWNSEND — Townsend employees will undergo new training related to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, after the town was found to have violated the law a year and a half ago.

In June 2015, former Town Administrator Andy Sheehan posted information online for an upcoming Board of Selectmen discussion on ambulance receipts, but he errantly included documents showing sensitive medical records protected under HIPAA. The information was online for about 18 hours, but before it was removed, it had been downloaded and posted to social media, town officials said at the time.

A complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the government ruled last year that a HIPAA violation did indeed occur — a decision that contradicted an opinion given by town counsel Brian Riley. Townsend was ordered to retrain its employees to ensure no future issues occur.

The policy passed Tuesday mandates employees to undergo specific training and to use security measures when working with or transmitting HIPAA records.

More than 20 residents attended Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, about a dozen of which were wearing T-shirts bearing the message “Support Townsend Police.” Last month, the town announced it was investigating four Police Department employees for allegedly conducting unlawful background checks on private civilians. One of those employees, Sgt. Randy Girard, resigned amidst the investigation.

The Board of Selectmen is also working to acquire information about the department’s past use of a software to track social-media use within town. Town Administrator James Kreidler, citing discussions with Police Chief Robert Eaton, said the department paid for a subscription to Digital Stakeout between November 2014 and November 2015.

On its website, Digital Stakeout is advertised as a tool that “generate(s) actionable advanced risk intelligence by aggregating, organizing, processing, and analyzing vast volumes of digital data sourced from social media, surface web, deep, and dark web, and proprietary sources.”

Kreidler said former IT coordinator and dispatch supervisor David Mazza, who was a reserve police officer at the time, was the only employee trained to use the software.

“Why Mr. Mazza was the one person trained is part of what’s being looked at,” Kreidler said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Conservation Commission officially got two new members.

Karen Hill and James LeCuyer were approved by the Board of Selectmen. They will not replace any existing members, however — the Commission typically has seven seats, though two of them have been vacant for at least a year, according to Selectmen Chairwoman Carolyn Smart.

Last summer, Hill filed complaints against Conservation Commission members Veronica Kell and Jennifer Pettit alleging that Kell had trespassed on her property and that Pettit had displayed bias against one of Hill’s planned projects.

Follow Chris on Twitter and Tout @ChrisLisinski.

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