Health department officials admitted Wednesday the confidential medical information of thousands of Tennesseans living with HIV may have been compromised on a public server for nearly nine months before the problem was discovered.
The admission has left HIV advocates and those living with HIV in Nashville outraged and stunned.
"I'm shocked at the revelation that the most sensitive health and non-public, private information of an already stigmatized population in Tennessee was so carelessly handled, even if just internally, although I'm skeptical that was the case," said Josh Robbins, a Nashville resident who is living with HIV and has long been an advocate for the community.
A file containing medical information of thousands of Tennesseans who have HIV was left on a server at Nashville's Metro Public Health system that was accessible to every employee at the department. The database is used by health officials as part of the Ryan White grant to help track and assist those in Davidson County living with HIV.
The database, though, identifies people who have tested positive for HIV and is only supposed to be accessible to a small handful of doctors, not the entire health department.
There were hundreds of employees who could've accessed the information.
"I'm dismayed and hurt by the apparent gross negligence of the Health Department for not protecting this information. Someone should be fired over this," Robbins said.
According to sources, the database contained a list of patient names, addresses, and social security numbers — all belonging to patients who tested positive for HIV.
Officials with Metro Public Health said they do not believe the confidential information ever left the department, but there is no way to tell that for certain.
HIV advocates, however, do not want this issue to deter people from getting tested.
"Yes, this lack of regard for confidentiality could drive fear up and testing numbers down, but HIV testing is the only way to know your status," Robbins said.