Agreement protects emergency responders

Published 5:37 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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WINTON – An information sharing agreement will help protect emergency front-line responders when they answer a medical call to an address where there is an active case of the COVID-19 virus.

The Hertford County Board of Commissioners, at their regularly scheduled meeting here Monday morning, approved the agreement in partnership with Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS). That agency serves as the public health department of the county.

Per the agreement, when a lab confirmed COVID-19 patient has been identified as a resident of Hertford County, ARHS will notify the county’s E911 Administrator of the patient’s address.

The county will use that information to protect both its first line responders and COVID-19 patients from unnecessary exposure to the virus and/or hospitalization by ensuring the responders know that proper usage of personal protection equipment will be required upon answering a medical call to that particular residential address.

The agreement calls for the county to automatically remove the COVID-19 patient’s data 15 days after the report date or upon notice from ARHS that the patient has recovered from the virus.

The county is prohibited from sharing the information regarding the COVID-19 patient. The county agrees to take full responsibility, to include paying any liability or monetary damages sought by an individual or group, if any unlawful disclosure of the patient’s personal data is permitted.

“This agreement with Albemarle (ARHS) is for the benefit of our first responders so they might know they need to take additional protective measures before arriving at the house,” Hertford County interim Manager David Cotton told the commissioners. “All information will be uploaded in our E911 system and shared, when needed, to our emergency responders, to include law enforcement and EMS. All information is purged from the system after 15 days.”

Commissioner Leroy Douglas asked if such information violates HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws.

“That has been the subject of a tremendous amount of back-and-forth among all the county attorneys involved in this discussion, to include those with the [North Carolina] School of Government,” answered Charles “Chuck” Revelle, a Murfreesboro attorney who serves as legal counsel to the board of commissioners.

“This is absolutely legal,” Revelle continued. “In fact, it’s legal to share more than just the address; it’s legal to share the name [of the individual]. But out of an abundance of caution, it’s suggested that only the address be shared.”

“This is not for public consumption,” Commissioner Andre Lassiter inquired.

“No, it’s only for our E911 Center, and they cannot disclose that information to anyone but to the personnel dispatched [to the medical call],” Revelle replied.

Upon a motion from Commissioner Bill Mitchell and a second from Lassiter, the agreement was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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