Live 5 Investigates: Medical records listed on auction site

Updated: Aug. 8, 2019 at 6:07 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The reality show Storage Wars gives you a peek at what happens when people renting storage units fail to pay the bill.

In South Carolina, if a storage unit renter doesn’t pay the bill for 30 days, facilities can start the auction process. They must contact the renter and publish an advertisement of the public sale once a week for at least two consecutive weeks ahead of the auction.

There was a local legal ad posted online for an auction for a storage unit in West Ashley in July. Apparently an OBGYN office had not paid its bills at the facility. The legal ad itself said medical records were part of the auction.

“That’s scary. And you’ve got to think there’s some ethical violations that would come into play,” said local attorney David Aylor. He said technically storage facilities can sell whatever is inside a delinquent unit.

We went by the morning the auction was scheduled.

A facility manager told us the bill was almost 90 days delinquent but they cancelled the auction because the OBGYN office finally paid up.

The storage employee said they were very concerned private records might have been abandoned in the unit but that they weren’t really intending to sell the medical records. Their company policy doesn’t allow for the sale of personal records, guns or vehicles left in units, he said.

They were planning to turn the records of to the South Carolina medical board if the bill wasn’t paid on time.

But the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation (LLR), which oversees the state medical board, said they wouldn’t have been able to accept such records. The department would only advise people who find themselves in possession of medical records to contact a lawyer for guidance.

“The storage facility owners can access the unit so they can at least describe generally what’s inside the unit to find out people who might be interested in coming to the auction to purchase it. But when it comes to the doctors- yes. You’re talking about a lot of liability issues when it comes to invasion of privacy,” Aylor said.

The office manager at the doctor’s office listed as the delinquent party, Ashley Oaks OBGYN, told us it was simply a mistake.

She said the office is in the middle of moving, and she forgot to the pay the storage bill.

She said no records were actually sold or compromised, that she’s happy to talk to any concerned patients and that she’s put the bill on auto pay.

Aylor said doctors manage loads of records because they are required to keep medical records of adults for ten years and records of minors for 13 years. “These have to be kept by law in South Carolina, and you could be about to violate that law simply because you’re not paying the bill.”

Aylor says the law doesn’t say exactly where records have to be stored, but he recommends professional storage companies that specialize in archiving medical and legal records.

An LLR spokesperson told us, “Safeguarding medical records is extremely important.” They said a doctor could be disciplined if records from their office fell in the wrong hands.

LLR told us they get call about medical records all the time. Usually, it’s after a doctor’s office closes and patients want to know how to get copies of their records.

Aylor said, “I think it’s a good question to ask your doctor -where are my records being kept?”

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