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Kern County Public Health releasing addresses of positive COVID-19 patients to local agencies

Video Credit: 23ABC News | Bakersfield - Duration: 03:31s - Published
Kern County Public Health releasing addresses of positive COVID-19 patients to local agencies

Kern County Public Health releasing addresses of positive COVID-19 patients to local agencies

It took weeks for the Kern County Health Department to start releasing more information about where positive cases of COVID-19 were within the county.

First it started with wide portions of the county broken up into sections such as Bakersfield West, Bakersfield East, the Valley, the Mountains, etc.

Then, in May, officials finally releasing more detailed information such as race, gender, and zip codes.

But what most people didn't know is that, since April, the Kern County Health Department has been sending a list of addresses of positive COVID-19 patients to local first responders.

Jeff Drummond, an attorney out of Texas who specializes in HIPAA protections and medical record privacy, said based on guidelines from the U.S. Department of Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) the health department is allowed to disclose that information, even without the patient's permission.

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AS PART OF A 23ABC INVESTIGATIONINTO POSITIVECOVID-19 PATIENTS, WE HAVEDISCOVERED THAT THE KERNCOUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENTIS RELEASING THEADDRESSES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVETESTED POSITIVE FORCOVID-19 TO LOCAL FIRSTRESPONDERS..AND IT'S RECENT CLARIFICATIONSTO HIPAA RULES THAT IS ALLOWINGPUBLIC HEALTH TO DO SO.TONIGHT -- AN ATTORNEY WHOSPECIALIZES IN MEDICAL RECORDPRIVACY EXPLAINS WHY THIS ISPERFECTLY LEGAL...THERE HAS BEEN FEAR AND A PUSHFOR MORE INFORMATIONABOUT WHERE POSITIVE COVID-19CASES ARE IN KERN COUNTY.IT WASN'T UNTIL A FEW WEEKS AGOTHAT THE KERN COUNTY PUBLICHEALTH DEPARTMENT STARTEDRELEASING MOREINFORMATION ABOUT COVID 19PATIENTS, SUCH AS RACE AND THEGENERIC AREA OF WHERE A PERSONLIVES.

HOWEVER, 23 A-B-C LEARNEDTHE PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT HASBEEN SENDING ADDRESSES OF PEOPLEWHO TEST POSITIVEFOR COVID 19 TO LOCAL FIRSTRESPONDERS SINCE AT LEASTAPRIL.IT'S A DISCLOSURE FOR PUBLICHEALTHPURPOSES... IT'S ALSO ADISCLOSURE TO SOMEBODY WHO WOULDOTHERWISE BEAT RISK OF A -- OF PERSONAL HARMIF THEY DIDN'T KNOW THISINFORMATION.JEFF DRUMMOND -- AN ATTORNEY OUTOF TEXAS WHO SPECIALIZESIN HIPAA PROTESCTIONS ANDMEDICAL RECORD PRIVACYSAYS IT'S A PRACTICE THAT'SCOMPLETELY LEGAL.IN THIS CURRENT SITUATION --WHAT ISREASONABLE IS DIFFERENT THANWHAT IT WOULD BE IF WE'RE NOT INAPANDEMIC.DRUMMOND SAYS IN LATE MARCH THEU-S DEPARTMENT OFHEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES OFFICEFOR CIVIL RIGHTS OR O-C-RCLARIFIED GUIDELINES ABOUT WHENINFORMATION CANBE SHARED WITH FIRST RESPONDERS.(GFX)INSTANCES INCLUDE "IN ORDER TOPREVENT ORCONTROL SPRED OF DISEASE", "WHENFIRST RESPONDERS MAYBE AT RISK OF INFECTION", "WHENTHE DISCLOSURE OFPROTECTED HEALTH INFORMATION ISNECESSARY TOPREVENT OR LESSEN A SERIOUS ANDIMMINENT THREAT TO THE HEALTHAND SAFETY OF A PERSON OR THEPUBLIC."HERE WHERE THE POTENTIALINFECTIONRATE IS SO HIGH AND THEPOTENTIAL DAMAGE IS SO HIGH..

ITKIND OF UPS THEANNTY A LITTLE BITSITUATIONALLY.ACCORDING TO O-R-C GUIDELINES --PATIENTS DO NOT HAVE TOGIVE PERMISSION IN ORDER FORTHEIR PROTECTED HEALTHINFORMATION TO BE SHARED WITHPUBLIC HEALTH ENTITIES IF IT'STOPROTECT AGAINST IMMINENT DANGER.GFX:ACCORDING TO THE KERN COUNTYPUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT --HALL AMBULANCE, COUNTY OF KERNFIRE DISPATCH, BAKERSFIELD CITYFIRE DISPATCH, KERN COUNTYSHERIFF'S OFFICE, BAKERSFIELDPOLICE DEPARTMENT ARE SOME OFTHE ENTITIES WHORECEIVE THE PATIENT LIST.THE LIST INCLUDES ADDRESSESASSOCIATED WITH A PERSON WHO HASTESTED POSITIVE... NOT THEIRNAME.AND NOT EVERYONE IN THEDEPARTMENT HAS ACCESS TO THELIST.WE STILL WANT IT TO BE THEMINIMUMAMOUNT OF PEOPLE WHO GET THEINFORMATION AND THE MINIMUMABOUT OFINFORMATION THAT THEY GETDISPATCHERS FOR THE AGENCIES AREGIVEN THE LIST...DISPATCHERS THEN GIVE GUIDANCETO FIRSTRESPONDERS IF THEY NEED TO WEAREXTRA PROTECTIONWHEN RESPONDING TO A CALL.(NATS)THE DISPATCHER SHOULD BE -- ISSORTOF THE CONTACT POINT -- ITMINIMIZES THE NUMBER OF PEOPLETHEINFORMATION IS DISCLOSED TO.THE KERN COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTHDEAPARTMENT SAYS THECURRENT LIST IS UPDATED ANDPATIENTS ARE REMOVEDAUTOMATICALLY FROM THE SYSTEMAFTER 30 DAYS.DESPITE THE CLARIFICATION INGUIDELINES... DRUMMOND SAYSCOVID-19 PATIENTS SHOULDN'T BEWORRIED ABOUT THEIR PERSONALINFORMATION GETTING OUT.YOU GOT TO TAKE A LOT OF COMFORTINTHAT AND YOU SHOULD TAKE A LOTOF COMFORT IN THAT A LOT OFPEOPLE AREAFRAID TO DISCLOSE THEINFORMATION LIKE THE PUBLICHEALTH AGENCIESTHEMSELVES SO THAT SHOULD GIVEYOU SOME COMFORT THAT IT'S NOTLIKELY THATTHE INFORMATION IS GOING TO GETOUT.KERN COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH SAYSTHIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIMETHEY'VE SET OUT A LIST LIKE THIS-- THEY ALSO SENT ONE OUT DURINGTHE EBOLA OUTBREAK




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