First Responders should become privileged to certain medical information under HIPAA.

First Responders should become privileged to certain medical information under HIPAA.

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Hothman Misane started this petition to State Representatives and

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has provided us all with a learning experience and from that comes an opportunity to make a change for the better. First responders, specifically law enforcement officers, are consistently exposed to the risks of the illness, bloodborne pathogens and contagious diseases. The pandemic has provided new challenges for us all, but for law enforcement personnel across the country who respond to calls for services and who interact with the unknown constantly, I believe a challenge has presented itself that is not being addressed and that is causing complications and potentially severe consequences.
 
Law enforcement officers are often first on scene to a very wide spectrum of calls for services and are constantly coming into contact with citizens, It’s part of their duties and is important. Even during a global pandemic, such as the recent COVID-19, the job must go on and first responders still must, for the most part, answer calls for services and must continue to protect their communities regardless of what is going on globally. Unfortunately, crime continues and even with the recent outbreak of illnesses, it has not slowed; studies even showing that crime has actually increased especially regarding domestic altercations.
 
Such responding personnel must be protected, at least in the sense that they are provided pertinent information on regions, specific households or persons that are sick or where dangerous illnesses exist, that are known. Health departments and other medical institutions should be providing that information to their local law enforcement agencies so that the first responders can take necessary measures in dawning personal protective equipment, planning tactics, safe approaches which may aid in preventing the spread of the illnesses, such as the COVID-19.
 
In a Michigan county, recently with the outbreak of COVID-19, A citizen was diagnosed with the illness and the county’s health department has refused to share such critical information that would entirely help in stopping/ slowing the spread of infection and in keeping responders safe. A generic message instead was provided saying “All law enforcement officers should consider as if all citizens have the virus.” Although that approach and concept is common sense it not possible in every situation in comparison to medical staff in their medical environments. Different circumstances of calls and crimes, force upon law enforcement officers ‘hands-on’ contact with otherwise unknown persons, some presumably who may be carriers of the virus or other contagious illnesses.
 
The fault is not to be placed on health departments or personnel but more on the restrictions that such personnel are bound to regarding HIPAA. It is vital that law enforcement officers be included in the network of information sharing that otherwise is included by HIPAA law(s). It is very crucial that people’s medical and health status be kept confidential out of respect for privacy of the citizen and to protect them from public judgement and scrutiny. First responders should be privileged to that information as they already are bonded by serious, well tracked and audited restrictions and laws for person’s private identity and criminal information. Information that may often be more critical and more important in keeping confidential.
 
A simple LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) entry to a person, even stating “Universal precaution” or “HSC” (Health Safety Caution) would suffice. This type of entry could be provided to responders post or during a dispatched call or ‘file check’ by dispatchers or that could be retrieved or viewed on a computer via LEIN. Currently such similar information and operations, exists with “OSC” that are entered into LEIN and that are provided by dispatch and or LEIN post a file check; An OSC being “Officer Safety Caution,” indicating that caution regarding potentially violent tendencies should be taken by the officer with that individual. LEIN already requires additional training and testing and legislation already exists that criminally punishes officers or personnel who violate LEIN law. With that precedence, adding medical information into LEIN or in an otherwise shared manner and in keeping, respecting its privacy and confidentiality should be simple to maintain, upkeep, enforce and train on.
 
PPE (Personal protective equipment) is not always available for first responders and is even harder to acquire during critical incidents and pandemics, as we are experiencing, just as it is for the medical industry. Some departments are more prepared then others and this is based on donations, budgets and training. Also, PPE is not always best for every circumstance as it can impede the officer’s access to life saving equipment or their general gear such as cuffs, firearms and more.
 
This change not only would care for, help keep officers safe and provide the best fighting chance for officers via important information to take certain precautions, but it would also keep the public safe. An officer or first responder, throughout a single shift interacts with potentially hundreds of people, depending on geography and demographics. They enter residences, other dwellings and buildings where persons and things are and sometimes must be touched for investigatory purposes or detainment. On medical calls, where law enforcement often arrives first, they make direct and at times lifesaving contact with “patients.” All those contacts already increase exposer and naturally void “six foot” social distancing rules. On each contact there is a chance of contracting an illness, such as COVID-19. Responders then may go to the next emergency call without time to dawn PPE or properly clean and disinfect and in-turn, may affect the next citizen unwillingly and unknowingly, increasing the rate of the problem.
 
Such incidents, spread of viruses, other contagious diseases and bloodborne pathogens can be reduced with prior confirmed knowledge of (especially) individuals and of dwellings. Already, due to the COVID-19, numerous law enforcement personnel have contracted the illness and many succumbed to it. Unknown as to exactly how they contracted the illness or from what contact, it is certain that those personnel have contacted other officers and citizens and it is likely that additional exposures have occurred from those contacts. It is possible to have reduced the exposure numbers if a system of notification was in place for those who are known to have it and is a common sense policy and approach.
 
Certainly we cannot prevent human error, recklessness or control all circumstances, but even if we can help inform, keep safe and reduce risk by just 1% of exposures through team work in sharing information with medical personnel in a secured controlled fashion, it is worth it. First responders deserve to have every possible and lawful fighting chance and approach to handling every situation and incident safely so that they may continue to serve and protect their communities.
 
Please consider this change in legislation and or policy so that it may be made and altered sooner than later. Understanding the busy schedules and COVID-19 ordeals taking immediate priority, we are hopeful, that such a change can be made for the better of those who serve and for those we are sworn to protect, as Michigan Governor Whitmer mentioned “Now is a crucial time.”

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