Posted by Thomas R. Burke
Just in time for Memorial Day... if the State of Nebraska has its way, the public will never know the names or anything else about nearly 1,000 former mental health patients buried between 49 and 110 years ago at a cemetery located at one of the state's rural facilities. Using the Nebraska Public Records Act, the Adams County Historical Society in Hastings, Nebraska recently sought access to burial records for information about former patients who were buried in unmarked graves at the Hastings Regional Center -- originally known as the "state ayslum for the incurably insane." The State is denying access to the records, citing to patient privacy statutes, including HIPAA. The Nebraska Attorney General's Office late last week concluded that the names of the former patients could be properly kept secret, forever. "These people are being denied the fact that they lived and died, and it's disgraceful," said Catherine Renschler, executive director of the Adams County Historical Society, commenting to the Associated Press in a recent article. As the nation celebrates Memorial Day 2007, it's unfortunate that the state is asserting patient privacy laws and HIPPA to deprive these individuals of some permanent dignity and to perpetuate social stigmas against those who currently suffer from mental illnesses.
FULL DISCLOSURE -- DWT is representing the Adams County Historical Society, pro bono, in connection with this matter.