Groups call for court to block sharing of medical information with McHenry police

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WOODSTOCK — A coalition of health and immigrant organizations is asking an Illinois appellate court to block the sharing of medical information with McHenry County law enforcement.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Illinois (LULAC), the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG) filed amicus brief through the ACLU of Illinois to block the forced sharing of information about who has contracted COVID-19 with local police.

According to a press release from the ACLU, the groups’ brief comes after a Circuit Court judge earlier sided with the law enforcement agencies to require sharing of this private medical information and denied a request by the McHenry County Health Department to reconsider that ruling. LULAC, ICIRR and HMPRG oppose the release of this personal medical information as a violation of their members’ rights to keep their health information private, and as ultimately harmful o the health interests that some claim to be the reason for sharing the data. 

The amicus brief filed on Wednesday argues specifically that the release of names or addresses of people who test positive for COVID-19 undermines the basic precepts of public health, and has a dangerous and stigmatizing impact on members of vulnerable communities, discouraging many in McHenry County from seeking testing and treatment in the midst of the pandemic.

The brief notes that if names of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 will end up in the hands of law enforcement and other first responders, many community residents will avoid seeking health care, including testing for coronavirus. The fact is that some will eschew testing and treatment if private medical information is shared, undermining public health efforts designed to protect all residents of McHenry County. 
 
“Undocumented families and families with mixed immigration status – with U.S. citizens, legal residents and undocumented individuals all under the same roof – already live in fear a loved one being swept up by the Trump Administration and fast-tracked for deportation,” added Maggie Rivera of LULAC Illinois and a McHenry County resident. “This is exacerbated by the self-defeating efforts of McHenry police officers who want to create an ineffective list for misguided purposes. We hope the appeals court will block this practice before it creates real harm.”

Public health experts also note that protecting the confidentiality of medical information is essential to ensuring that people access needed medical care for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 
 
“Sharing personal medical information for those infected with the virus with law enforcement stands in stark contrast to good public health policy and effective public health practice” says Ameri Klafeta of the ACLU of Illinois. “The pathway out of this pandemic is not through shortcuts and simple solutions. We should respect the personal medical privacy of our neighbors and continue our support for policies that will encourage people to get tested and to help us stem the spread of the disease.” 

“Best practice in public health demands that first responders assume all people they are called to attend to may be COVID positive,” added Margie Schaps, executive director of the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group. “To provide personal medical information only on those who test positive could lull the responders into false complacency about everyone else.  This puts the health of the first responders at risk as it unnecessarily invades people’s medical privacy.”

A copy of the filing in McHenry County is available here.  

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