There was a time when if you walked into a small hospital, such as the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor or the James Peyton Memorial Health Centre in Gander, it would take just minutes for everyone from the doctor on duty to the lady in the cafeteria preparing lunch to know why you were there.
Years ago, your health problems were the community’s health problems. If you had gallstones, everybody seemed to know about it.
Years ago, charts were hung from the end of beds, and anyone could pick them and up and have a read through.
But then again, back then, if you were behind on your taxes everybody knew that, too.
Times have changed.
Privacy is one of the most valued and privileged rights in our society, and rightly so.
Who wants someone we barely know to be able to recite our medical history - the good, bad and ugly?
And would you want your child’s chart read by a total stranger?
What is happening with your health and that of your family is your business; yours and the professionals who are treating you.
An infringement on that right to privacy is a serious matter and Central Health handled it exactly the right way this week. They were forced to fire an employee after it was discovered that person had read files of 19 patients.
While it is never an enjoyable task to terminate an employee, in a case such as this one it is necessary.
And even less of a fun afternoon is having the CEO sit in front of television cameras and voice recorders answering questions that will form the top story in newspapers and evening news shows.
But they did just that, they did it quickly, and they did it without hesitation.
Most of us learned somewhere on our paths of life that hiding our errors and mistakes simply cause them to escalate and become bigger than they would have been had we just fessed up from the beginning.
Other health authorities found out the hard way.
Central Health obviously has taken the lesson from other faux pas of health care boards and decided to be efficient and immediate in fixing their breaches of privacy.
Karen McGrath is widely known to be a fair, knowledgeable and capable administrator, who demands excellence from those she works with.
In this case, she has led with determination and with unqualified action, which is the way our health authority should be run.
There will always be people who break rules or let their natural tendency to be nosy get the better of them.
But at least now they know that Central Health will deal with those kinds of indiscretions quickly and definitively. It is comforting to know the powers-that-be at our hospitals take our privacy as seriously as we do.