Sheriff: Health depts ‘refuse’ to share COVID-19 data, asks DeWine to intervene

Sheriff: Health depts ‘refuse’ to share COVID-19 data, asks DeWine to intervene
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said he is unable to protect first resopnders in the coronavirus epidemics unless health departments share addresses they have of people with confirmed cases. (Source: Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones Twitter account)

HAMILTON (FOX19) - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said Tuesday he asked Gov. Mike DeWine’s office to intervene after learning two health departments in the county “refuse” to provide addresses of confirmed coronavirus cases to the county’s 911 center so “that critical information" can be relayed to first responders.

Addresses under quarantine are typically shared countywide, he said. But in this situation, as cases of COVID-19 and deaths continue to rise statewide and nationally, Jones said the cities of Middletown and Hamilton health departments are “withholding” that information.

The sheriff’s office runs the county’s largest 911 center and dispatches calls for service for 15 fire/ems departments and eight police agencies including the city of Hamilton.

“We have been able to enter quarantine addresses into our system so when fire, EMS or police are dispatched to that location they are immediately notified that it is a known quarantine location,” Jones said. “This data does not contain any names, just the location of the quarantined individual.”

On Monday, he said Hamilton Health Director, Kay Farra notified the sheriff’s office that, under the direction of the state, they would no longer share this critical quarantine information with first responders.

“I find this disturbing and unacceptable," Jones said. “I may be sending police and life squad members to a quarantined location without their knowledge. I understand the need to treat everyone as if they have the virus, but realistically we do not have the personal protective equipment to wear on every call.”

"To have this information and not share with first responders is reckless. After all, law enforcement may be called to these locations to enforce the quarantine order, are they going to share it then?

“They said it’s to teach us that you have to assume everybody has it and always take precautions and keep a 6-foot distance and it’s safer for you all. That’s horsesh--. They are putting our first responders lives at risk. They are going to cause somebody to die. Our first responders are our front lines.”

As of Monday, Ohio has 442 cases and 6 deaths, according to the state’s department of health.

Cuyahoga County continues to lead the state with 167 cases. Franklin County is second with 75, followed by Hamilton reporting 38 and Summit at 36.

Butler County ranks 8th with 18 confirmed cases. On Tuesday, county health officials confirmed a 1-year-old is among those.

FOX19 NOW reached out for comment from officials at both health departments and a spokesman for DeWine.

Middletown Health Department Commissioner Jackie Phillips responded:

"We do not report out ANY Infectious Diseases (HIPAA violation). During the height of our Opioid epidemic our first responders were at an extreme risk of Hepatitis A, B and C HIV and Tuberculosis and there was no out cry of wanting addresses of individuals. Universal precautions is the term that refers to certain steps that medical professionals and others (1st responders) for infection control it is a technique that people use to reduce the risk of transmitting infectious diseases.

“With COVI-19 now being community spread, with the multiple testing opportunities with people returning to their community from out of state and out of country travel, we should all use caution. It is my strong belief that know “where or who” people are makes us more dangerous because we are not paying attention to other unknown people that are possibly a threat as well."

The City of Hamilton provided the following statement to FOX19 NOW:

"The health and safety of our first responders is critical in the fight against this pandemic. While they’re important to our effort, they’re also our coworkers, friends, and family.

"To be clear, the City believes the locations of those who are infected or quarantined as a result of COVID-19 is valuable information that should be shared with public safety and dispatch personnel. When Hamilton received its first confirmed case of COVID-19 two days ago, the Health Department was operating under guidance from the Bureau of Infectious Diseases at the Ohio Department of Health not to provide the locations of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We look forward to more clarity from the State of Ohio, however in the meantime, the City will pursue any avenue available to it to provide this information to our public safety personnel as soon as possible. We are looking forward to continued communication and collaboration with all agencies and partners as we fight this virus.”

Hamilton County, Interim Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman opted to provide addresses to first responders.

“It’s good to have that information so that deputies and EMS can be prepared," said Dave Daugherty, spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

"Obviously everybody is practicing safe distancing, but if they have to go into a hands-on situation they need to get their protective gear if they have it and look at all options on how to handle the situation so they can protect themselves from not being exposed.”

The leader of the union that represents Cincinnati police said on social media he thinks the addresses should be provided to first responders.

“Just curious as constitutional rights are being restricted during a national state of emergency why are HIPPA rights being still protected? More specifically, why aren’t first responders able to be notified of specific known Covid-19 peoples adddresses?” He wrote in a Facebook post. “That way at least first responders would know what they are walking into in case of emergency at that specific address. It makes no sense to me.”

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser tells FOX19 NOW he is OK with “hot spot" neighborhoods that have COVID-19 breakouts being identified by physicians.

But he is vehemently opposed to names of people with confirmed cases being released and fears that would be the result if addresses were shared with first responders because most of dispatch records are public.

He said the only way he would be open to it would be if that information did not include names - and only if there would be a guarantee the data would "be protected” and not released to the public under any circumstances.

“I am not about to breach the privacy of sick people. You don’t need to know their names. Just stay the hell away from them and you can quote me on that. If their names get out, that would have a chilling effect if anybody knows they are sick, it would have a chilling effect on people reporting it and seeking treatment. They would become pariahs.

"And we are not going to turn this into a society of national pariahs. We did that during World War II in Europe and we are not going to do it in the United States of America. It would have to be a hard and fast absolute rule on that and if the media will do that and we can trust them to that, then I will say yes.”

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