PARMA, Ohio — The Cuyahoga County Board of Health is keeping secret basic demographic data about people dying from coronavirus — information that other health boards around the state are providing to the public.
The Board of Health on Tuesday refused to provide the age or sex of the second person in Cuyahoga County to die from the coronavirus, saying concerns about protecting patient privacy trump the public’s need to know such information.
But three days earlier, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton confirmed that same demographic data for the first person to die of coronavirus in Cuyahoga County — a 91-year-old man — when the county Board of Health had refused to disclose those same details.
And within the past week, both the Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health and the Erie County Board of Health released demographic data about those counties’ first coronavirus deaths.
Hundreds of readers in recent days have contacted cleveland.com wanting to know more on-the-ground details of how coronavirus is affecting their communities, including demographics for those who have died.
The Board of Health says it is protecting patient privacy by not disclosing such details. But Medical Director Heidi Gullett said the board could consider releasing more information about the cities where coronavirus patients live, or other details as the caseload continues to grow, thus making it less likely for the public to identify individual cases.
The board says its abiding by the same patient privacy guidelines it uses in cases of HIV or the measles.
Asked to respond to the public friendly policies in place in Lucas and Erie counties — which have smaller populations than Cuyahoga County and still saw fit to release that information — Gullett said every health department has to make its own choices about what it allows the public to know.
“I will release data as I feel comfortable around the privacy of our citizens, because that’s who I represent, Gullett said. “My health department colleagues will have to make decisions about whether they feel comfortable releasing their data.”
Asked how the Board of Health is balancing those patient privacy concerns with the request from taxpayers to get more information amid the growing coronavirus pandemic, a board spokesman said: “We will always err on the side of patient privacy.”
Boards of health in Ohio work differently than other government bodies, but they’re still funded by local taxpayers — many of whom want more coronavirus details from the organization they are paying to operate.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health represents all of Cuyahoga County’s communities except for the city of Cleveland, which maintains its own Department of Public Health.
The Board of Health is overseen by five trustees serving five-year terms, including Board President Debbie L. Moss, a real estate and corporate attorney, and member of the Dalad Group.
The other members are James T. Gatt, formerly senior vice president with National City Bank, and chief information officer of Ohio Savings Bank; Gregory Hall, a private practice physician and medical director for five local nursing homes; Doug Wang, retired senior vice president of the Northern Trust Bank; and Sherrie Williams, a pulmonary/critical care specialist and past medical staff president for The MetroHealth System, according to the board’s website.
The board is responsible for appointing the health commissioner, who also serves as secretary of the board. Terry Allan is the current health commissioner.
Cuyahoga County communities also have a say in board governance: Board members are appointed by a District Advisory Council, which is comprised of 22 mayors and trustees of county cities and townships, along with representation from the office of the Cuyahoga County executive, Armond Budish, the website says.
More than 50 percent of the board’s budget last year came from federal, state and local funds. Cities, villages and townships in Cuyahoga County contributed about $4.2 million dollars in 2019, comprising about 16 percent of the money used to maintain Board of Health operations, according to the board’s annual report.
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso