Privacy of personal information is an important principle to Hospice Northwest. We are committed to collecting, using and disclosing personal information responsibly and only to the extent necessary for the services we provide. We also try to be open and transparent as to how we handle personal information. This document describes our privacy policies.
What is Personal Information
Personal information is information about an identifiable individual. Personal information includes information that relates to one’s personal characteristics (e.g. gender, age, income, home address or phone number, ethnic background, family status), one’s health (e.g. health history, health conditions, health services received by them) or one’s activities and views (e.g. religion, politics, opinions expressed by an individual, an opinion or evaluation of an individual). Personal information is to be contrasted with business information (e.g. an individual’s business address and telephone number), which is not protected by privacy legislation.
Who We Are
Our organization, Hospice Northwest, includes at the time of writing an Executive Director, two support staff and a number of volunteers who provide hospice palliative care services . We use a number of consultants and agencies that may, in the course of their duties, have limited access to personal information we hold. These include computer consultants, office security and maintenance, bookkeepers and accountants, temporary workers to cover holidays, credit card companies website managers, cleaners and lawyers. We restrict their access to any personal information we hold as much as is reasonably possible. We also have their assurance that they follow appropriate privacy principles.
We Collect Personal Information:
Like all health and social service agencies, we collect, use and disclose personal information in order to serve our clients. For our clients, the primary purpose for collecting personal information is to provide hospice palliative care services to patients at home and at various health care facilities For example, we collect information about a client’s health history; including family history, physical condition and function and social situation in order to help us assess what their palliative care needs are; to advise them of their options; and then to provide the palliative care they choose to have. A second primary purpose is to obtain a baseline of health and social information so that in providing on-going health services we can identify changes that are occurring over time. It would be rare for us to collect such information without express consent, but this might occur in an emergency (e.g. the client is unconscious) or where we believe the client would consent if asked and it is impractical to obtain consent (e.g. a family member passing a message on from our client and we have no reason to believe that the message is not genuine).
About Members of the General Public
For members of the general public, our primary purposes for collecting personal information are to provide notice of special events (e.g. a seminar or conference) or to make them aware of hospice palliative care services in general or our agency in particular. For example, while we try to use work contact information where possible, we might collect home addresses, fax numbers and email addresses. We try to obtain consent before using any such personal information, but where this is not, for any reason, possible, we will upon request immediately remove any personal information from our distribution list.
On our website we only collect, with the exception of cookies, the personal information you provide and only use that information for the purpose you gave it to us (e.g. to respond to your email message, to register for a course, to subscribe to our newsletter). Cookies are only used to help you navigate our website and are not used to monitor you.
About Contract Staff, Volunteers and Students
For people who are contracted to do work for us (e.g. temporary workers), our primary purpose for collecting personal information is to ensure we can contact them in the future (e.g. for new assignments) and for necessary work-related communication (e.g. sending out paycheques, year-end tax receipts). Examples of the type of personal information we collect for those purposes include home addresses and telephone numbers. It is rare for us to collect such information without prior consent, but it might happen in the case of health emergency (e.g. a SARS outbreak) or to investigate a possible breach of law (e.g. if a theft were to occur in the office).
We collect personal information about volunteers for the primary purposes of assessing suitability and ability to perform the services, contacting them, and assigning the volunteer work. If contract staff, volunteers or students wish a letter of reference or an evaluation, we will collect information about their work related performance and provide a report as authorized by them.
We Collect Personal Information:
Related and Secondary Purposes
Like most organizations, we also collect, use and disclose information for purposes related to or secondary to our primary purposes. The most common examples of our related and secondary purposes are as follows:
- To advise clients and others of special events or opportunities (e.g. seminar, development of a new service, arrival of a new product) that we have available.
- Our organization reviews client and other files for the purpose of ensuring that we provide high quality services, including assessing the performance of our staff and volunteers. In addition, external consultants (e.g. auditors, lawyers, practice consultants, voluntary accreditation programs) may on our behalf do audits and continuing quality improvement reviews of our organization, including reviewing client files and interviewing our staff.
- Like all organizations, various government agencies (e.g. Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Information and Privacy Commissioners, Human Rights Commission, etc.) have the authority to review our files and interview our staff as a part of their mandates. In these circumstances, we may consult with professionals (e.g. lawyers, accountants) who will investigate the matter and report back to us.
- Reporting to funding agencies does not include personal information about clients.
- Clients, or other individuals, whom we deal with may have questions about our services after they have been received. We also provide on-going services for many of our clients over a period of months or years for which our previous records are helpful. We retain our client information for seven years after the last contact to enable us to respond to those questions and provide these services.
- Basic information about clients who are deceased while receiving service is maintained for a period of seven years. This information is restricted to name, diagnosis, gender, and length of time in service.
- If Hospice Northwest or its assets were to be sold or transferred to another non-profit service organization, the purchaser or new organization would want to conduct a due diligence review of the records to ensure that they are complete and protected. This due diligence may involve some review of our accounting and service files. The purchaser or transfer organization would not be able to remove or record confidential personal information. Only a reputable purchaser or funded, non-profit agency would be provided access to personal information, and only for the purpose of completing their due diligence search prior to closing the purchase or completing the transfer of the program.
- You can choose not to be part of some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g. by declining to receive notice of special events or opportunities,). We do not, however, have much choice about some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g. external regulation).
Protecting Personal Information
We understand the importance of protecting personal information. For that reason, we have taken the following steps:
- Paper information is either under supervision or secured in a locked or restricted area.
- Electronic hardware is either under supervision or secured in a locked or restricted area at all times. In addition, passwords are used on computers.
- Paper information is transmitted through sealed, addressed envelopes or boxes by reputable companies.
- Electronic information is transmitted either through a direct line or is anonymized or encrypted.
- External consultants and agencies with access to personal information must enter into privacy agreements with us.
Retention and Destruction of Personal Information
We need to retain personal information for a necessary period of time to ensure that we can answer any questions you might have about the services provided and for our own accountability to funding agencies and external regulatory bodies. However, we do not want to keep personal information too long in order to protect your privacy.
We keep basic information about our clients for seven years. Our client and contact directories are much more difficult to systematically destroy, so we remove such information when we can if it does not appear that we will be contacting you again. However, if you ask, we will remove such contact information right away. We keep any personal information relating to our general correspondence (e.g. with people who are not clients) newsletters, seminars and marketing activities for a minimum of six months after the newsletter ceases publication or a seminar or marketing activity is over.
We destroy paper files containing personal information by shredding. We destroy electronic information by deleting it and, when the hardware is discarded, we ensure that the hard drive is physically destroyed. Alternatively, we may send some or all of the client file to our client.
You Can Look At Your Information
With only a few exceptions, you have the right to see what personal information we hold about you. Often all you have to do is ask. We can help you identify what records we might have about you. We will also try to help you understand any information you do not understand (e.g. short forms, technical language, etc.) We will need to confirm your identity if we do not know you before providing you with this access. We reserve the right to charge a nominal fee for such requests.
If there is a problem we may ask you to put your request in writing. If we cannot give you access, we will tell you within 30 days if at all possible and tell you the reason, as best we can, as to why we cannot give you access.
If you believe there is a mistake in the information, you have the right to ask for it to be corrected. This only applies to factual information and not to any professional opinions of health care professionals. We may ask you to provide documentation that our records are wrong. Where we agree that there is a mistake, we will make the correction and notify anyone to whom we sent this information. If we do not agree that there is a mistake, we will still agree to include in our records a brief statement from you on the point, and we will forward this statement to anyone else who received the earlier information.
Do You Have a Question?
Our Executive Director Joan Williams can be reached at our office:
63 Carrie Street
Thunder Bay, ON P7A 4J2
Phone (807) 626-5575
She will attempt to answer any questions or concerns you might have.
If you wish to make a formal complaint about our privacy practices, you may make it in writing to our Executive Director. She will acknowledge receipt of your complaint, ensure that it is investigated promptly and that you are provided with a formal decision and reasons in writing.
This policy is made under the Personal Health Information Protection Act 2004. This is a complex act and provides some additional exceptions to privacy principles that are too detailed to set out here. There are some rare exceptions to the commitments set out above.
For more general enquiries the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario oversees the administration of personal health information privacy legislation. The Information and Privacy Commissioner can be reached at:
2 Bloor St. E. Suite 1400
Toronto, ON M4W 1A8
Phone (416) 326-3333
Fax (416) 325-9195