DOH Forgot to Invite Public

Jul 11, 2013

Claude Shipley, who helped create the state's prescription drug database, always shows up when its future is being discussed. But he didn't attend the Department of Health's database hearing on database privacy Monday because he didn't know about it.

In fact, hardly anyone did. DOH held the meeting at 8:30 a.m. on the Monday after a long holiday weekend, didn't tell the press where or when the meeting would take place and failed to put the information notice on  its "public information" website.

Health News Florida discovered the problem Monday morning and called the press office to find out. But no one was available to talk about it, and anyhow by then the workshop was over. It only lasted 22 minutes, according to Watchdog.org in an article headlined: Public board avoids inviting public to public meeting.

Dara Kam of the Palm Beach Post reported that only one person spoke at the meeting: Pamela Burch Fort, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.  Burch Fort suggested that a warrant be required to access the database, officially called the Electronic Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program, or E-FORCSE.

As Kam noted in her story, Health Department officials refused to answer reporters' questions after the meeting, instead directing them to submit questions in writing. That has become a frequent requirement by the DOH press office under current Surgeon General John Armstrong. Requests to speak directly with subject-matter experts rather than the press office are usually denied.

Rebecca Poston, program manager for E-FORCSE, said in an e-mail that another workshop on the privacy issue will be held in August. At that meeting, she wrote, "proposed text" will be ready for discussion. 

The workshop was scheduled amid questions on the constitutionality of the database after the names of 3,300 patients treated at a pain clinic were leaked, apparently by a defense attorney in a Volusia County drug case.