Nassau officials say privacy laws hinder probes

Erik German writes in Newsday:

More than 10 days have passed since police say three New Cassel children were killed by their troubled mother, and Nassau County officials say they still don’t have what they need to fully investigate.

“Right now I’m sitting here, there are three kids dead and I don’t have full information on the case,” said Mary Curtis, Nassau’s deputy county executive for health and human services. “Maybe in the end people decide civil liberties are very important and this is so rare an occurrence that we have to live with it. But let’s have a public discourse on it.”

Curtis alludes to overlapping layers of state and federal privacy laws that bar her or her caseworkers from gaining access to mental health treatment records for Leatrice Brewer, the mother who police say murdered her children, who were ages 6, 5 and 18 months.


A constellation of federal and state laws governs the disclosure of health records in New York State. Those seeming to exert the greatest pull on the Brewer case are the privacy clauses within the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, and those within New York State’s mental hygiene laws, which date to 1972.

Broadly, the rules allow treatment counselors, psychiatrists or doctors to release records of a patient’s mental health or drug treatment only under certain conditions. The records stay secret unless a judge orders their disclosure, a patient consents to it, or the health care provider has reason to believe releasing the record will avert grave harm – if, for example, the patient reveals evidence of ongoing child abuse, or demonstrates intentions to commit a serious crime.

Full story – Newsday

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