Attorney general, stiffed again by UK’s refusal to let it examine heart-clinic records, says university violated Open Records Act

Attorney General Andy Beshear has ruled that the University of Kentucky violated the state Open Records Act by not giving the Lexington Herald-Leader records about a Hazard heart clinic that proved to be a financial debacle.

“The Herald-Leader asked UK for a copy of a presentation made May 2 to the UK Board of Trustees by lawyer David Douglass regarding the Appalachian Heart Center in Hazard,” the newspaper’s John Cheves reports. “The newspaper also asked for records showing money paid to Douglass’ law firm and for copies of audits of the cardiology practice, which separated from UK after questions were raised about its billing.”

UK gave the paper on a few documents, “citing five separate legal exemptions under the records law, including executive privilege, attorney-client privilege and the confidentiality required by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” Cheves writes. The paper appealed to Beshear’s office, which asked to examine the records in camera, or confidentially, but the university refused, as it has in a string of cases.

“Given that UK refused to provide any of the disputed records for in camera review, we can only find that UK failed to meet its burden to establish any of its claims of exemptions,” Assistant Attorney General James wrote in his decision, signed by Beshear and issued Wednesday. “We are not prepared to accept, without independent confirmation, that all of the responsive documents are shielded from public inspection.”

James dismissed all the exemptions cited by UK. “Regarding the patient confidentiality required by HIPAA, James said, UK can redact identifying information about patients from documents that contain them, but it cannot use that law to justify withholding all records related to a medical facility,” Cheves reports.

Attorney general’s opinions in open-records matters are decisions that have the force of law unless overturned by a court. UK seems likely to do so in this case; it has more than one such lawsuit pending.

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