- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BALTIMORE | Reports of cancer cases were deliberately inflated in a Maryland state database maintained by a private contractor, leading researchers in a cervical-cancer study to send letters to women who did not have the disease, a legislative audit found.

About 400 women who did not have the disease received the letters seeking their participation in the study, prompting calls from 10 of the women to the state’s Family Health Administration. The discrepancies were detailed in an audit of the agency by the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

The reports and a tip from a former employee of the company administering the database, Macro International Inc., led to the investigation by the state health department’s inspector general and a criminal probe by the state attorney general’s office.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said that charges have not been filed and that she could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

The company has fired the employee responsible, the audit found. Macro spokeswoman Kristin Jones said Tuesday that the Calverton-based company would not comment on the matter.

Doctors, hospitals and other medical providers are required to report new cases of cancer diagnosed or treated in Maryland. The database is used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR), other states and researchers. The cancer numbers are also used to award grants to counties for cancer prevention, education, screening and treatment programs, the audit states.

The national NAACCR registry did not certify Macro’s 2003 submission of the 2001 Maryland database, as was required under Macro’s contract with the state. Without certification, the company could have lost the contract, said Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

The audit faulted the department for not taking timely action, which the department disputed.

Legislative Auditor Bruce A. Myers said his office’s audit did not determine why the numbers were changed. The vendor’s investigation found more than 3,000 discrepancies in one year and concluded the changes were deliberate and methodical and made by one person or people with access to the system, he said.

“Well, I can just speculate that when they did the ‘01 data, they didn’t get certified, so one of the reasons you don’t get certified is your data is not complete,” Mr. Myers said. “Maybe to make it appear complete, they stuck in data.

“Now, to change data from, you know, a test that showed no cancer to cancer. … I don’t know what the motive is behind that unless it’s easier to enter certain data and someone is just lazy. I don’t know, I can’t answer that.”

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