Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Health Department & Hattiesburg Newspaper Have it Out Over Nursing Homes

Should the Mississippi State Department of Health release the names of nursing homes that report Covid-19 cases? Hattiesburg Publishing will square off against the Health Department over that very question today in Hinds County Chancery Court.

Hattiesburg Publishing operates as The Pine Belt News.  Northsider Wyatt Emmerich owns the publication.   Managing Editor Josh Wilson filed a public records request on April 6 that asked for copies of public records that "describe or discuss a Covid-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility in Forrest County."  The request also asked for the news of the facility, the owner's name, and the number of residents affected and tested for the illness.

The Mississippi Public Records Act states government bodies have to respond to a public records request within 7 business days. The government should either provide the records or a written statement why it can't provide the records.  The law gives the agency another 7 business days to provide the records or deny the request.

The Health Department told Hattiesburg Publishing it simply didn't have time to fool with its request:

As a result of the necessary work that must be done to combat Covid-19, we do not have the capacity or the resources to respond to your request at this time.
Mr. Wilson filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission.  However, he discovered what those of us who deal in such matters on a regular basis already knew.  It is several months before the Commission renders a decision after a public records complaint is filed. 

Hattiesburg Publishing exercised its rights under the law and sued the Health Department, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, and MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot on May 13.

A hearing will be held this afternoon.  Attorney Matthew Lawrence represents Hattiesburg Publishing. Benny May represents the Health Department.

Kingfish note: The Health Department probably violated the law by not citing an exemption to the request.   However, the request was somewhat sloppy as much of it asked for information instead of records.  There are a plethora of court cases and Ethics Commission rulings that state a request has to ask for records, not information.  This might be interesting. 


Anonymous said...

Don't believe they should. They get that concession they will next want addresses of people infected, not names, just addresses.

Anonymous said...

@2:14p- Wouldn't the "addresses" of the "residents" be the facility they reside in? Since they openly requested the names of the facilities (and the addresses are public record), I don't understand your comment.

Anonymous said...

" Wyatt Emmerich" .

Anonymous said...

The nursing home facility IS where they live. The damn newspaper doesn't need to known their name or anything else. Screw em. This is getting out of hand.

Anonymous said...

I'm much less concerned about which LTC facilities have outbreaks than I am with which ones didn't take adequate measures to protect their residents. It's a pandemic. It spreads. There is no way to 100% ensure all the staff is free of the virus at all times. Naming the homes does no good without the context of how well they implemented their safety procedures. On the other hand, what I would like to see is the results of a MSDH inspection of all the facilities in the state with a report on their preventive measures. That would give much better actionable information for people to use.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that the tort bar has other ways of discerning this information.

Silence DoGood

Anonymous said...

To hell with this 'newspaper'.

Chances are, that paper will be in Bankruptcy within months anyway.

They abide by privacy laws when it applies to thugs in the Forrest General ER, but raise Hell when it's a 90 year old in a nursing home.

Anonymous said...

Summer camp begins the first of June at Camp Shelby. Bringing in potential virus vectors from other states to mix with the homegrown from USM that went to Mardis Gras at New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is courting disaster. Forrest General cannot accomodate the influx.

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