JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When a large box filled with children's medical records found on the side of Beach Boulevard on Saturday was brought to News4Jax, the I-TEAM began digging.
News4Jax went to where the box was found and discovered even more papers, some filled with legally protected personal information, blowing in the wind.
"I'm absolutely outraged," said Michael Speer, whose son's records were in the box. "I mean, it's insane."
The documents contained the Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of births and notes of procedures for 102 area children who were patients of Dr. Howard S. Schneider, the former pediatric dentist charged with Medicaid fraud and accused of abusing children at his Southside dental office.
The good Samaritan who found the box brought it News4Jax because he didn't know what else to do with it.
The I-TEAM got to work notifying the parents we could locate.
"I'm absolutely outraged. You were able to get ahold of me within two minutes of looking at a record," Speer said.
The file for Speer’s son was thin, as he only went to that pediatric dental office twice. He said he didn’t like Schneider.
Other records contained much more extensive information, such as consent forms for a child who had been sedated or who had been fearful in the office.
The purpose of the consent letters was to allow the dentist to strap children to papoose boards -- labeled by Schneider as a "compassionate technique" -- to perform "safe, comfortable and quality dental treatment."
These are the same boards that children later recalled with horror when questioned by local and state investigators after Schneider was arrested.
Inside another child's medical file was a note from Schneider's staff, saying "This mom is very ridiculous!!" The note goes on to say the mother wanted her child's records released back to her. That was dated April 2015 -- the same month parents began protesting outside Schneider's office, alleging abuse.
Dr. Howard Schneider's troubled timeline
- April 2015: Protesters began daily protests outside dental office on University Boulevard, demanding an investigation of his practice. Days later, the state Attorney General's office confirmed it was investigating Schneider's Medicaid billings.
- May 2015: Schneider closed his practice. He then surrendered his license to practice dentistry.
- November 2015: Schneider turned himself in on 11 counts of Medicaid fraud.
- February 2017: A judge found Schneider not competent for prosecution on the fraud charges. In motions, his attorneys said he suffered from "severe mental deficits and lack of memory."
- January 2018: A hearing to review Schneider's competency postponed until Feb. 1
"I'm kind of in shock right now," said attorney John Phillips, who has represented 131 victims in civil cases filed against Schneider. "There is dangerous stuff in here. That's offensive that it's gotten to where somebody dropped it off at a news station because they found it on the street."
Phillips said leaving the records outside is also potentially against the law. He wouldn’t even look inside a record because of privacy laws. He noted that in the wrong hands, this could have been a very different story.
The I-TEAM contacted Schneider's attorneys, Bill Sheppard and Betsy White. They replied with a note saying "a box of records ... inadvertently fell off a truck" while they were being transported to "a secure location. The accident occurred during a rainstorm..I thought all the documents were retrieved. ... Every effort was made to maintain the integrity of these files, however, Mother Nature had other plans."
For Speer, that's not good enough
"I don't care if you want to blame Mother Nature or not. With information like that out there, you need to be on top of it and make sure you get everything," he said.
News4Jax is keeping the records locked away at the station so they cannot be compromised any further, and is coordinating with Sheppard and White to have them picked up.
Got a tip for the I-TEAM?
This story came into the News4Jax I-TEAM hotline. If you have a story you’d like us to check out, call or text 904-479-NEWS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether or not what happenedd was against the law remains unclear. It depends on who was in possession of the records at the time they were left along the road. We know that the company holding the mortgage foreclosed on the building where Schneider practiced after he surrendered his dental license. There could be negligence by a moving company, but without all the facts we can’t say.
The I-TEAM was given this advice to pass along to parents to protect the identities of their children: You do not have to provide a Social Security number to a doctor. Yes, a lot of offices ask for it. If they need it, you can verbally tell them, but you do not have to put it in writing.
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