Judge Orders DPH To Disclose Uncensored Patient Abuse Records
On Wednesday, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ordered the California Department of Public Health to disclose uncensored copies of patient abuse records from institutions for individuals with developmental disabilities, California Watch reports.
Nearly 1,700 patients with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities live in California's board-and-care institutions. For decades, the state has denied the public access to records detailing violations at the centers.
In May 2011, the Center for Investigative Reporting -- parent company of California Watch -- filed a request for the records. In response, DPH release 55 citations. The citations included a total of 169 pages, a majority of which were blacked out, according to California Watch.
In January, CIR filed a lawsuit seeking records of citations issued to institutions in:
- Los Angeles;
- San Jose;
- Sonoma; and
- Tulare counties.
According to lawyers for the state, health services provided to individuals with developmental disabilities are considered confidential, so the reports had to be "aggressively redacted" before disclosure.
Details of Decision
Judge Timothy Frawley wrote in his decision, "Under [DPH's] construction, redacting factual information from the citation, the public knows a violation has occurred, but cannot ascertain how the violation occurred, whether it has been corrected or whether it is likely to be repeated," adding, "The purpose of making the citation public is defeated."
Frawley added that the state Legislature "already has made the determination that disclosure of the citations does not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
DPH has 20 days to appeal the ruling or release the complete citations. It is permitted to remove patient names from the records.
Reaction to Decision
Robert Rosenthal -- CIR's executive director -- said the ruling allows the release of information that will serve "the public interest and help ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our society will be protected and treated in an appropriate manner."In a statement, DPH said that the agency is "in the process of evaluating the court's ruling" (Gabrielson, California Watch, 9/19). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.