Student Journalists from USC Denied H1N1 Death Certificates
Despite having been granted access to 44 H1N1-related death certificates last month, several California counties are denying additional requests for death certificates from student journalists at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism.
The Los Angeles County Health Department refused the records request, saying that they were upholding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The act, which was passed in 1996, requires the medical records of hospital patients to be kept confidential.
According to Thomas Burke, Partner at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the public has a legal right to the death records under state law. He says that death records are not restricted under HIPAA.
The USC students were reporting for the Neon Tommy, Annenberg’s digital news website, as part of investigative coverage of the H1N1 epidemic.
“We wanted to put some faces behind what is an epidemic, since most of the coverage has been on [vaccine availability], who should get the vaccine, and prevention,” said Neon Tommy's News Editor Richie Duchon. “There's not a lot about actually who the disease is killing, and what we should take away from that.”
Neon Tommy reporter Callie Schweitzer added, “We're going to keep pushing. This is something that needs to stay in the public eye. We're hoping we'll be able to get more information now that the county knows we're serious.”