Regional Center names should be released

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Time was, people were institutionalized for all sorts of reasons -- epilepsy, alcoholism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, developmental disabilities -- any mental condition that the medical community didn't understand or couldn't cure was grounds for "putting away" the victim.

Modern psychiatry, medication and an enlightened attitude has changed that to a large extent. Even those whose conditions cannot be successfully treated can at least find a place at home or in community-based systems.

Thanks to modern treatment and enlightened attitudes, much of the stigma has been removed from many of these mental conditions.

Attorney General Jon Bruning's opinion that the names of mental patients, buried under numbered markers, cannot be released, however, is a step in the wrong direction.

The statement was issued in response to a request by the Adams County Historical Society for access to the names and dates of death for some 957 people who died at the Hastings Regional Center between 1888 and 1952.

State officials refused, saying they were prevented by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, from releasing the patients' names.

We understand Nebraska Health and Human Services' reluctance to release patient information -- most of us wouldn't want such information about ourselves to be made public.

But we have seen HIPAA used as an excuse for all sorts of obstruction, from the condition of accident victims to the location of a house fire.

We have to question the need to conceal the name or date of death for someone who died nearly 120 years ago, especially to people who only want to trace their family trees.

Could it be the state is ashamed of the way mental health patients were treated, and fearful of possible consequences?

HIPAA and it corresponding state regulations should be modified, if need be, to end such unreasonable restriction of information.

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