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Letters : Privacy of Jail Medical Files

February 03, 1985

While all of us in Orange County government who are responsible for the care, health and safety of inmates incarcerated in the County Jail are optimistic about improving interagency relationships in that jail, I would like to correct one misconception that was published in an editorial in The Times (Jan. 7).

The issue of confidentiality is one that has received a good deal of attention in recent years. Professionals in mental health and drug abuse have served time in jail to defend the confidentiality of records. There are important reasons to protect this confidentiality.

Most notably, confidentiality is a crucial concern for many of the patients seeking help for their mental disorders, and they may be reluctant to be candid with therapists if they feel the information is not protected.

In fact, we had an incident in which lawyers at the County Jail allegedly advised their clients to withhold information from treating psychiatrists because of the apparent danger to confidentiality in the jail. There are very explicit laws governing the release of privileged information in psychiatric records.

The Times editorial implied that the dispute between Sheriff Brad Gates and the county Health Care Agency was settled when the court found in favor of Gates ordering release of records germane to his investigation. That implication is an error. State law forbids release of records in this instance without a court order.

The Health Care Agency signed an agreement before the court order agreeing to release of the records if the court so ordered, and Gates promised to protect their confidentiality. Without such an order, agency staff members would be violating state law.

SANFORD R. WEIMER, M.D.

Director of Program Operations,

Orange County Mental Health

and Drug Abuse Services

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