ATLANTA -- The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) has sent out nearly 350,000 letters to families in Fulton and DeKalb counties notifying them that some of their personal information was shared with a charitable organization without consent.

The disclosure affected families enrolled in the state’s Medicaid and/or PeachCare for Kids programs between 2007 and 2017. PeachCare for Kids is a health care program for uninsured children living in Georgia. The Department has identified the root cause of the disclosure and taken steps to prevent it from occurring again.

Staff in the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) improperly disclosed the information about the families to the nonprofit organization Empty Stocking Fund (ESF) so the families could participate in its annual Christmas gift distribution.

ESF is a nonprofit that distributes holiday gifts to children throughout metro Atlanta each year. The organization used the information provided by DFCS to notify individuals of their eligibility for its annual gift distribution, and to verify their identity if they chose to participate.

DFCS provided ESF with the names, addresses, race and ethnicity of the recipients, as well as the names, genders and dates of birth of children in the home.

No other information, such as Social Security numbers, medical diagnoses or medical information, was released to the organization.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 restricts the sharing of medical and other health information with unauthorized entities, which would include the Empty Stocking Fund.

After becoming aware of the unauthorized disclosure, DHS took immediate action to determine how many families had been affected by the disclosure and, began notifying families who were known to be affected by the disclosure.

“While we have no reason to believe that anyone’s information was used in a way that would cause them harm, we are obligated to protect the privacy of those we serve,” said DHS Interim Commissioner Gerlda Hines. “We have taken action to prevent future unauthorized disclosures, and to protect those who may have been affected by previous disclosures.”

DHS has set up a call center the public can use to learn what information was provided to ESF. Individuals may inquire about the information potentially shared with ESF by calling 1-855-501-4636. The call center will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for 90 days.

The Department has also provided instruction to affected individuals on obtaining a credit report and placing a fraud alert or security freeze on credit files for those who suspect their financial information has been compromised.