By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Three East Greenwich firefighters have sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s office and the State Police asking them to investigate what they say is a breach of confidentiality by a town employee or employees. The incident in question took place Saturday, Nov. 18, when firefighters on duty at Station One on Main Street noticed some personal health records lying in plain view on a shelf inside the window in front of the building.
Firefighters called the police, who documented the incident and contacted Fire Clerk Kristen Henrikson, who unlocked the door and removed the papers. Henrikson’s desk is in the front office with the window. Only Henrikson and Fire Chief Christopher Olsen have a key to the office. The paperwork had been in the window since at least the previous day. Henrikson does not work on the weekends and Olsen works Monday through Thursday, leaving for his home in New Hampshire Thursday evenings.
The paperwork included information about firefighters Ryan Grady, Edward Matola and Jonathan Szerlag, who first sent a letter to Town Council members, outlining what they said was a violation of their privacy and a the state Confidentiality of Health Care Communications and Information Act. The letter asked for a public apology from the Town Council, Henrikson’s immediate dismissal, and that the town institute and enforce policies to safeguard against further incidents of this type.
When the town did not respond within 10 days, the firefighters then contacted the Attorney General and the State Police, acknowledging that the violation is a misdemeanor and normally would stay local, but “given the current state of politics in the Town as well as the overwhelming potential for conflict of interest,” they decided to seek help from the state.
They were referring to tension between town officials and the firefighters. In addition to dismissing Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in November, town officials have gone after what they describe as an overly generous contract (agreed to in 2016 by three of the current Town Councilors) and overtime expenses. It was the firefighters who brought suit against the town and won, with Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ruling that Town Manager Gayle Corrigan fired firefighter James Perry illegally and citing the town for three Open Meetings Act violations, rendering Corrigan’s initial appointment to the position of town manager in June null and void.
According to Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, the town can take action or not or can reserve the right to take action in response to a letter of this type. He noted that the police report said there was “no crime involved.”
The papers were removed and “the issue was mitigated and that was it,” Chief Olsen said Thursday.
He declined to say how, if at all, the issue had been addressed or if he had asked Henrikson if she had left the papers out when she left on Friday. He questioned whether or not it was even Henrikson who left the paperwork out.
“How do you know if the clerk left them there?” He said he did not leave the papers there.
The chief, who gave an extensive report to the Town Council Dec. 4 about the fire department’s need for more professionalism, said this was a personnel issue and as such he did not feel comfortable commenting further.
“It’s been handled and that’s all you need to know,” he said.
“If the fire chief thinks there’s no need to investigate, from the town’s perspective that means nothing more needs to be done,” said D’Agostino.