Four legislators from Beaufort County said they would support a change in state law that would open public access to local EMS data to help improve oversight of those departments.
The proposed change is a response to an opinion last month from the S.C. Attorney General's Office that said details on EMS operations, including ambulance response times, can't be released to the public. Doing so, the state attorney general's opinion said, could compromise patient privacy. The opinion was sought by Beaufort County after repeated requests by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette for information on response times to medical emergencies.
The current law, which took effect five years ago, is "broader than it needs to be," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. "We need to err on the side of transparency in oversight of government." "There are some legitimate" restrictions on data, such as patients' names and specific medical conditions, said Davis, who had not been elected when the law passed. "We have to protect those, but also be careful not to throw the baby out with bath water and provide no transparency. The law needs to be more narrowly drawn."
Also supporting the effort to change the law are state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton; state Rep. Richard Chalk, R-Hilton Head Island; and state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort. Sen. Harvey Peeler Jr., R-Cherokee, said last week he would sponsor a bill to change the law when the state legislature reconvenes in January. Peeler, who serves as chairman of the Senate's Medical Affairs Committee, said a lobbyist from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control asked him to sponsor the bill that became the current law.
DHEC drafted that bill, the research director for the medical affairs committee said last week. When Peeler agreed to back it, he said he thought its intent was to bring state law into compliance with federal patient privacy laws. He said he did not intend it to go as far as it did in keeping information, including response times, secret from the public.
JEMS.com Previous Coverage:
South Carolina Ambulance Response Times Can Remain Secret