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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Editorials on Hospitals Withholding Mistake Info

The Yakima Herald-Republic, The Olympian, and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorialize on the state Department of Health's decision to withhold public records on hospital mistakes (little things like operating on the wrong part of the body). DOH was withholding the records despite the fact that laws were passed specifically to require such disclosures. It looks like DOH caved to pressure from the Washington State Hospital Association and refused to release the records. After the outrage, the hospitals decided to authorize release.

Each editorial highlights a different component of the story.

The Yakima Herald-Republic editorial provides concrete examples of the importance of the information withheld.

The Olympian editorial describes DOH's caving to the hospital association.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial details the outrage from the public.

The hospital association's decision to back down illustrates that enforcing open-government laws has two tracks: legal and accountability. When the legal remedies are insufficient--and here a law allowed disclosure but apparently no records requestor had the money for litigation--then the accountability track (also know as "outrage") kicks in. As it should. That's the system: legal remedies supplemented by accountability remedies.

Note to government decision makers: If you are considering unlawfully withholding public records, getting sued is only one of the two problems you face.