It was supposed to keep Hanford’s medical records confidential. Instead, the company is writing a check

A former Hanford contractor has agreed to pay $389,355 to settle Department of Justice allegations that it falsely claimed to have met requirements for a new electronic medical records system for Hanford employees.

The system installed by Computer Services Corp., or CSC, never worked correctly and had to be replaced, according to federal court documents.

CSC, the Department of Energy’s occupational health services contractor from 2005 to 2012, agreed to the settlement, but denied it did anything wrong.

CSC has merged its government contracts business with another company, SRA International, to form CSRA, Inc.

After CSC’s contract expired, it has worked either as CSC or under its new name, as a subcontractor to HMP Corp., which now holds the occupational health contract at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

In 2016, two Hanford whistleblowers were awarded $216,000 in back pay and compensation, plus legal costs, over the issue.

Kirtley Clem and Matthew Spencer, both CSC information technology employees, lost their jobs in 2012 when they reported failures in the new electronic medical record system that CSC had been required to provide.

Shortly after winning the initial settlement after a trial before a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge, they filed a whistleblower lawsuit in federal court.

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice’s Eastern Washington District notified the court that it was intervening in the case and also that a settlement agreement had been signed that day. U.S. Judge Lonny Suko unsealed the document Wednesday.

Clem and Spencer will receive a combined total of $81,764 of the settlement, plus their legal costs. They filed the initial lawsuit in 2016 under the False Claims Act that awards a portion of government funds recovered to whistleblowers.

“Hanford Site workers perform a vitally important mission, through which they risk exposure to radioactive and hazardous materials,” said U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington. “It is critical that accurate health records be maintained concerning these workers.”

Among problems with the system was inadequate tracking of health risks for individual Hanford workers.

The problem created the potential for workers at risk for chronic beryllium disease — the incurable lung disease — to be exposed to the metal beryllium, despite medical restrictions to protect them.

In 2009, Hanford officials decided to replace its dated electronic health records systems, and DOE agreed to pay almost $1.4 million for a new records system and a digital imaging system, according to court documents.

DOE Hanford workers.jfif
The Department of Energy has asked for bids on a new occupational medicine contract to cover the care of 6,000 Hanford workers. Courtesy Department of Energy

CSC was required to have the system operating by September 2012 or risk losing up to 30 percent of its incentive payment for that year, according to court documents.

CSC failed to provide adequate resources for the project as the end of its contract approached at the same time, court documents allege. They said it assigned a project lead that lacked the right experience and cut its information technology staff by half.

It took the system live in mid September 2012, even though it did not work correctly.

In 2015, DOE asked the Department of Health and Human Services to assess the system.

It found that the system sometimes entered information in the wrong patient’s file, as whistleblowers said they had reported in 2012, according to court documents.

The assessment confirmed the defects in the part of the system for entering health risks.

It also said that the scheduling part of the system that was supposed to send email notifications of clinic appointments to workers would crash the entire Hanford nuclear reservation computer service. It was turned off in 2012.

The system did not comply with federal patient privacy regulations, according to court documents.

It allowed medical charts to be sent by mistake to any printer at Hanford, which employs more than 9,000 workers. It was another defect reported by information technology employees before the system went live, according to computer documents.

CSC was not allowed to bid on the new Hanford occupational health contract when its contract expired in 2012 because DOE limited it to small businesses, like HPMC. HPMC had been a subcontractor to CSC before 2012, and the two companies switched roles when HMPC won the new contract and named CSC a subcontractor.

DOE has asked for bids on a new medical contract as HPMC’s contract is expiring.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews