Arizona DHS facing criticism over records request denials

Filed Under: Arizona Criminal Records

Access DeniedThose with nothing to hide generally don’t mind showing you their closets, so-to-speak, which is causing some suspicions for Arizona news affiliate ABC15.  They made several requests to an Arizona hospital for public records and a response was delayed for over a year before being flat out denied.  The network was initially trying to request public records related to all incidents of sex crimes and patient abuse at Arizona State Hospital when they hit a wall of resistance.  Even after a state judge ordered that the hospital turn over the records to the station, nothing came.  The hospital made excuses for a number of months before simply telling ABC15 that it would not comply.

Their reason was that complying with the request breached patient confidentiality and could be used to identify victims.  A seemingly noble cause, until one realizes that, according to public records attorney Dan Barr and others looking into the case, hospitals regularly turn over such documents without qualm, and can be, in cases, allowed to redact names and precise patient identifiers to protect identities.  Multiple attorneys following the case began to call out the state run hospital for being “ridiculous” and “outrageous” in its attempts to justify denying the request.

The longer the case drug on, the longer it seemed that perhaps the hospital had something to hide, and might be practicing some sort of damage control.  A judge ruling on the eventual court case would go on to say that while it was important for ASH to comply with whatever internal policies it had set regarding the release of sensitive information, it was also of utmost importance for the hospital to comply with state-set laws for the release of public records.  While patient records for treatment are obviously private, files related to the alleged abuse of a patient in the care of a hospital are not.

Oddly enough, the hospital had had no problem handing over these types of records as recently as the previous year.  What changed?  The hospital fell under new management when CEO Cory Nelson was promoted, who decreed that the hospital would no longer release records to the public regarding alleged abuse.  According to Nelson, these cases would now be considered as part of the personal medical records of a patient.  That’s an alright opinion to have, say some, but it doesn’t change the way that the laws are written.

Barr calls the position ludicrous, and likens it to a lawyer sexually abusing someone in their offices and then claiming attorney/client privilege when ordered to disclose details.  The new stance contradicts the hospital’s previous stances on the matter, the same types of files used to be readily available to public records requests.  In one case, the hospital failed to redact information and there was an issue with an alleged victim being identified.  Could the hospital simply be trying to prevent a repeat of a past mistake, or is there something dark in the recent past of ASH?  Only time will tell, as it seems that Nelson is ready to cling to the records at all costs, even under threat of prosecution.