What no doubt will come as a shock to some is no surprise to others.

An East Moline parent called last week and told about discovering two sets of strangers' medical records in her daughter's belongings. The documents included lists of medications, doctors' notes, diagnoses and other personal information, including Social Security numbers and addresses.

The girl who was caught with the records told her mom she got them at her school, Glenview Middle School, where some kids were passing them around. They stole the records, the girl said, from a nursing home that closed nearly four years ago.

Forest Hill Health & Rehab folded in 2013. Owner Michael Lerner has said it was not profitable, so he closed the 137-bed facility. Phone numbers for Lerner's GEM Health no longer are in service, and he could not be reached for comment.

About 18 months after it closed, someone walking by Forest Hill noticed a water leak, and the city responded. In addition to finding unlocked doors and windows, city workers encountered a surreal stage inside.

"It looked like a scene out of 'The Walking Dead,'" former East Moline Mayor John Thodos said last week. "There were sharps all over the place. I got a court order to remove the bio-hazards and the meds.

"There were medical records and personnel records. A driver's license and Social Security card were sitting right on a desk. There were keys, too.

"It looked like they were coming back on Monday morning."

Even with the court order to recover the items posing a health risk, the city lacked the authority to remove the records. So, they were left behind again. It appeared last week that a wheeled cart that was pushed out of the facility and left on a sidewalk contained at least a dozen binders of medical records.

The reason there were any records left for the kids to steal can be credited to the work of Blaze Restoration, Thodos said, which voluntarily makes spot checks on the building (as do police) and boards up windows when needed. But Blaze also lacks the authority to remove any property.

For the kids breaking in and stealing the documents, there could be bigger troubles.

"There is black mold all over in there, and you needed a respirator two years ago," Thodos said. "The building isn't even salvageable, anymore."

He blames Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for failing to do something about it, especially since her office emphasizes its efforts at combating identity theft.

"She was contacted twice by our attorneys," Thodos said of Madigan. "She chooses to do nothing about it."

Madigan spokeswoman Annie Thompson on Monday said her office has been in contact with the East Moline city attorney.

"This building was guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and HUD is trying to sell the building and land," she said. "We had been working with HUD to try to get any buyer to agree to dispose of the records appropriately."

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But a HUD spokeswoman last week confirmed no one was interested when the property became available under a foreclosure auction in January.

"Michael Lerner remains the owner of record," HUD spokeswoman Gina Rodriguez wrote in an email. "You may want to reach out to him and/or the IL Department of Public Heath, IDPH, regarding applicable procedures/state statute in the event of a nursing facility foreclosure as it relates to the concerns you raised."

Unable to locate Lerner or anyone who knows how to locate him, I turned to IDPH, as advised.

"IDPH no longer licenses this facility and, therefore, has no regulatory authority over the facility for records contained inside," agency spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. "IDPH does not have the authority to intervene."

So, no one has the authority to do anything. The 40,000-square-foot home, sitting on more than six acres in a residential neighborhood, is going to be left to decompose, along with whatever contents are not removed by children.

Thompson, the Attorney General spokeswoman, said, "The information about the break-ins is new to us, and we will be reaching out to the city again."

But city officials already have made clear their hands are tied.

We're all aware by now of HIPPA, the 1996 federal law that delivered strict regulations to protect privacy and security of health information. You can't get past the receptionist in any medical building without signing something related to HIPPA.

In East Moline, all of that goes, literally, right out the window.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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