4/21/11

Cleanse hospital files before freedom of information comes into effect!

Ontario hospitals have been warned to avoid scandals by "cleansing" files of anything that might embarrass them before the public gets the right in January to ask for the information when hospitals become subject to freedom of information requests, The London Free Press reports.

Ontario's information and privacy commissioner was stunned and upset.  "I was astounded at the language. Just using the word 'cleansing' is highly inappropriate. It suggests shredding, eliminating, hiding -- getting rid of material before the end of the year," Ann Cavoukian told The Free Press.

The advice was posted online by a major law firm that works for many hospitals. The report appears to have been removed from the firm's web page, but the Free Press quotes it as follows:

"Controversies involving public-sector organizations have demonstrated the significant reputational risks they face when information about their business conduct is made public.  
The eHealth Ontario spending scandal and a Local Health Integration Network's failure to meet requirements for 'community engagement' in decisions involving major initiatives are examples of how, in the future, a hospital's reputation can be harmed through a (public) request.  Accordingly, hospitals will want to adopt best practices in not only responding to (public) requests but, equally importantly, in cleansing existing f
iles on or before Dec. 31, 2011, subject to legislative record-keeping requirements."

The advice was originally flagged by a patient advocacy group, Every Patient Matters, which posted it on its Facebook page, eliciting howls of outrage.

Hospitals were severely embarrassed when sloppy contracting-out for management services was uncovered last October by the Auditor General.  
 Subsequently, The Broader Public Sector Accountability Act  made hospitals subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) as of January 1, 2012.  At that time, records from the previous five years will be subject to freedom of information requests.    Hospitals were also required to report on contracting out for consulting services  -- though not for the much larger contracts for food, housekeeping, etc.


Digging, perhaps, from its 'major embarrassment' file, the Ontario Hospital Association responded to the news story with this:


"We understand that some law firms have chosen to publicly share their general opinions on the FOIPPA (the Freedom of Information law -- DA) as it applies to hospitals, and on how they would recommend their clients proceed. That is their prerogative. However, the first principle for the OHA – and for the law firms that are actually assisting us in preparing hospitals for FOIPPA – is that the spirit and the letter of FOIPPA must be adhered to at all times, period. To do otherwise would undermine public confidence in hospitals and our health care system."


Well, here's hoping that openness & transparency is the wave of the future!



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