Updated database shows which professionals were sanctioned in 2012

26 12 2012

Looking for a new doctor, barber or contractor? You might want to check here first.

With help from Tony Semerad, the Tribune’s computer-assisted reporting editor, we’ve updated the professional licensing disciplinary databaseon UtahsRight.com. The database shows actions the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing has taken against doctors, nurses, contractors, cosmetologists and other licensed professionals who have violated the law or professional codes. This latest update covers the period between December 2011 and November 2012.

The current update includes data on 656 companies and individuals. Among them, there are:

• 297 in the construction industry.

• 92 nursing professionals.

• 51 pharmacists or pharmacies.

• 40 physicians and/or surgeons.

• 32 cosmetologist/barbers.

• 21 massage therapists.

• 16 dental professionals.

The database is searchable by city, profession, individual’s name and company name. Let us know what you think, or how you’ve used the information.

Records mediation will remain voluntary for now

24 12 2012

For now, people who are not satisfied with their records requests can choose whether to seek mediation with the state ombudsman.

During a recent meeting, the State Records Committee agreed to keep meetings with the state Records Ombudsman voluntary and see how that works.

Outgoing Committee Chairwoman Betsy Ross discussed the possibility of requiring mediation before a records committee hearing.

“As a lawyer, I believe it is better for the parties to come to a solution than to have a solution forced upon them by a judge,” Ross said before the meeting. “They’re going to be happier about it.”

Currently, the committee requires a pre-hearing meeting between the chair, representatives of the agency holding the record and the person requesting the records to try to avoid a hearing or at least narrow the issues the committee will hear. Since the middle of this year, people have the option of also meeting with the records ombudsman to settle the dispute. In her first report, ombudsman Rosemary Cundiff stated she had mediated about 10 cases.

Cundiff said that people who just want records find that mediation works well. But there are people who want a precedent-setting decision from the records committee, “and I cannot give them that.”

Ross said that while she and Cundiff try to remain independent, it does create some confusion to have people go through two levels of intervention before going into the committee.

Paul Tonks, the deputy attorney general assigned to the committee, said the current regimen also puts the committee head in the somewhat awkward position of knowing things about a case that the rest of the committee does not. He noted that in a recent appeal involving The Salt Lake Tribune and the Utah Transit Authority, Ross challenged the UTA on a statement based on what she had learned during the pre-hearing meeting.

But making mediation with Cundiff mandatory would require changing the law.

Patricia Smith-Mansfield suggested keeping the mediation option in place, but not doing the pre-hearing meeting and see how that works out.

Do you want to know if your investment broker has a ‘minor infraction’?

21 12 2012
How much information do you want about your investment broker’s background?

If Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, gets his way, there won’t be much at all — at least as far as cases brought against brokers by the state.

 As Robert Gehrke reported, Stephenson wants the state Division of Finance to remove cases brought against investment brokers removed from the Internet. Stephenson claims that some of the advisers charged admitted to “minor infractions”, and that some of those admissions were the result of alleged abuses within the department that were highlighted in a 2008 legislative audit.

Stephenson said those cases now come up in Internet searches, causing people to “think my neighbor or my bishop is a criminal.”

The Utah Securities Commission voted to keep the information public.

One would think that when it comes to investing hard-earned money that an investor is entitled to know about all the skeletons lurking in their advisers’ closet, no matter how trivial.

Stephenson’s request raises the question of what constitutes a “minor infraction” in the eyes of someone looking for a broker or financial adviser.

What may be minor in Stephenson’s eyes might, to another person, be a red flag that this broker may not be the person who should be managing his kid’s college fund or his retirement investment.

Dame Agatha Christe said, “When large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.” She didn’t make an exception for minor infractions.

Do you think making this information available will help Utah rein in its problem with fraud, including “affinity fraud”?

Persistence, public attention flushes out Utah Highway Patrol complaint statistics

21 12 2012

The good news is that, contrary to earlier reports, the Utah Highway Patrol does track complaints against troopers, and punishes those who break the rules.

Unfortunately, it took the earlier reports to get the UHP to provide the data months after it was first requested.

As Nate Carlisle reported, The Salt Lake Tribune requested data on complaints filed against UHP troopers and their disposition. At first, UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird said the department did not keep such statistics. Later, Baird said the department kept the statistics, but making them available would be a “laborious but not impossible task.”

After the Tribune’s Nov. 18 story about the lack of information from Utah on complaints against troopers — and how neighboring states track complaints, UHP officials said not only are the complaints tracked, but that supervisors are regularly updated. The highway patrol also provided data for the past three years showing the number of complaints and how many are being tracked.

Baird and Deputy Attorney General Lana Taylor told Carlisle that they did not know that the UHP had compiled those statistics.

The story came in the wake of swirling allegations of misconduct against Cpl. Lisa Steed, who is fighting her firing by the UHP.

Records Committee to hear from another inmate seeking records

12 12 2012

Another Utah State Prison inmate is seeking the state’s help to get records.
Robert Baker is appealing the Utah Department of Corrections’ denial of his request for the department’s medical operations manual. The State Records Committee will hear his appeal tomorrow morning.
The department recently instituted a policy of only waiving fees for the first 100 pages of documents inmates request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). Inmates are required to pay fees for requests that exceed that amount.
Corrections officials say the change is needed to deal with inmates who have made a “hobby ” out of requesting public documents.
In November, the records committee ruled that the department did not have to waive fees for inmates, but said it had to provide inmates with better access to records. GRAMA allows people to inspect records at no charge.
The committee will also hear an appeal from Salt Lake City Weekly reporter Stephen Dark, who is seeking a performance audit and email from the Department of Human Services.
The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtyard Meeting Room of the Utah State Archives, 346 S. Rio Grande St

Missing girl’s identity shouldn’t be hidden inside HIPAA mandate

12 12 2012

Imagine a child with a life-threatening illness is spirited out of a hospital, putting her at risk of death if she doesn’t get medical attention.

But the public, who might be able to spot the child and help her can’t be told who she is, beyond a first name and age because it would break a privacy law.

That scenario didn’t come from the inner recesses of Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller’s imaginations. It actually played out this week in Arizona.

An 11-year-old girl was being treated for leukemia in a Phoenix hospital. The girl already lost an arm to infection and had a catheter in her chest to deliver medication. The girl’s mother unhooked the medical lines and took her daughter out of the hospital with the open catheter, putting the girl at risk for fatal infections.

But initially, the girl was only identified as Emily, as officials said federal health privacy laws did not allow them to discuss her situation in greater detail.

The law in question is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The law’s goal was to protect people’s medical information from prying eyes while making it easy for doctors to access it. Most of you encounter HIPAA when you go to the pharmacy and have to stand 10 feet back from the window until it’s your turn, lest you overhear the pharmacist telling a customer how to use medication for an illness.

But the law can also make getting important information difficult from those who either see HIPAA as an excuse to hold back information or are gun-shy about the law’s penalties for unauthorized release. HIPAA violations can be punished by up to 10 years in prison and fines ranging between $50,000 and $1.5 million.

Emily’s story is a classic example of this problem. If she had been taken from a school or her home, her full name, age and the clothes she was last seen wearing would be flashing on every billboard in the state and popping up on cellphone screens everywhere.

Eventually, the police released her last name — Bracamontes — and the names of her parents. But the information could have come out sooner without violating HIPAA.

Paul Murphy, Utah’s Amber Alert Coordinator, said HIPAA does allow hospitals to release information to police when someone’s life is at risk, at which point it is no longer private and can be sent out to the public.

This is not the first time someone has used HIPAA to hold back information.

Several years ago, a Provo Municipal Councilwoman was taken out of a closed-door meeting by ambulance. However, the fire department refused to give out any information, citing HIPAA.

More recently, when The Salt Lake Tribune was before the State’s Record Committee seeking crime statistics from the Utah Transit Authority, a UTA employee said that the reports would have to be heavily redacted because they could contain “HIPAA information.”

HIPAA only applies to health-care providers, and the law does not include fire departments or police departments on that list. Nor should it be used to hide information about what happened to an elected official, crime statistics or information that could help find a girl whose life is in danger.