Attorney General: Susan S. Addiss, Department of Health Services, 1991-020 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

June 10, 1991

Susan S. Addiss
Commissioner
Department of Health Services
150 Washington Street
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Commissioner Addiss:

In a letter dated January 15, 1991, your predecessor requested the opinion of this office regarding two questions concerning the implementation of 1990 Conn. Pub. Acts. No., 90-226 (codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-396 et seq.). This Act provides in general for grant-in-aid for occupational health clinics and places responsibility for the surveillance and evaluation of occupational illnesses and injuries with various state agencies. 1990 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 90-226. Your questions arise from Section 4 of the Act (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-399) which provides:

(a) The statistical division within the workers' compensation commission shall receive and coordinate data from occupational health clinics, auxiliary occupational health clinics and other data bases and medical sources concerning occupational illnesses and injuries at various sites and related to various occupations.

(b) The division shall coordinate data collection activities from current available and competent sources, from new sources and from occupational health clinics and auxiliary occupational health clinics and shall, in cooperation with the division of worker education within the workers' compensation commission, educate unions, employers and individual workers on use of the surveillance system. Data collection and reporting shall be in a form which is consistent with the system used by the United States Centers for Disease Control.

(c) The division shall publish a summary of the data collected pursuant to this section on not less than annual basis.

1990 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 90-226, 4 (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-399).

As indicated in your letter, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Labor and the Workers' Compensation Commission are contemplating a joint effort in the collection and evaluation of occupational illnesses and injuries. As each agency is involved in the collection of occupational disease data, all three agencies desire to establish a single reporting process to avoid imposing multiple reporting requirements on health care providers.1 The Act also contemplates the cooperation and involvement of the three agencies in various aspects of implementation of its provisions. 1990 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 90-226, 2,3,5,6. A key concern in this joint effort is confidentiality of the reports and data collected.

This proposed collaboration has produced the following question which you requested this office to address:2

If reports of occupational illnesses and injuries are received by an agency other than the Department of Health Services, would the information contained therein be confidential under Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-25 or any other provision of law?

In summary information concerning occupational illness and injuries received by an agency working jointly in a study of morbidity and mortality with the Department of Health Services would fall within the confidentiality protection provided by Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-25.

Your inquiry addresses the scope of the confidentiality provided under Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-25. This statute provides in part:

All information, records of interviews, written reports, statements, notes, memoranda or other data, ... procured by the department of health services or by staff committees of facilities accredited by the department of health services in connection with studies of morbidity and mortality conducted by the department of health services or such staff committees, or carried on by said department or such staff committees jointly with other persons, agencies or organizations, or procured by such other persons, agencies or organizations, for the purpose of reducing the morbidity or mortality from any cause or condition, shall be confidential and shall be used solely for the purposes of medical or scientific research.

Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-25.3

Pursuant to this provision, all information procured in connection with studies of morbidity and mortality conducted or carried on by (1) the Department of Health Services; (2) staff committees of facilities accredited by the Department or (3) by the Department or such committees jointly with other persons, agencies or organizations are confidential. Id. The statutory confidentiality applies whether the information is "procured" by the department, accredited staff committees or by such other persons, agencies or organizations provided it is "procured" for the purpose of reducing the morbidity or mortality form any cause or condition. Id. Thus, information or data collected by persons, agencies or organizations working jointly with the Department on a study of morbidity and mortality would fall within the scope of confidentiality provided by Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-25. Under your proposal, reports of occupational illnesses and injuries collected by the Department of Labor or the Workers' Compensation Commission would be confidential under 19a-25 since each would by an agency conducting or carrying on a study jointly with the Department regarding morbidity and mortality.4 In order to be clearly secure the protection provided by 19a-25 it would be advisable to enter into a formal written agreement establishing the collaboration of the Department of Health Services and the other agencies involved. It should be noted that the "joint study" contemplated in the statute would not be met by merely token or superficial involvement in a study by the Department. The Department's participation in a "joint study" must be material and of substance.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Henry A. Salton
Assistant Attorney General

RB/HAS/lm


1 The Commissioner of Health Services has broad authority regarding the collection of information regarding conditions affecting or endangering public health. Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-5. In furtherance of this responsibility, a system has been established for collection of information concerning reportable diseases and other public health conditions. Id. See e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. 19a-111 (lead poisoning). In addition, the Department of Labor also has regulatory responsibility for reports of occupational diseases and injuries. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40a; 31-371(c); 31-374(c).

2 Subsequent conversations with your staff have established that resolution of the confidentiality question set forth above in the affirmative would render the other question raised in your request unnecessary . As you will see, our response is such that the other question in your request need not be addressed.

3 "Morbidity" is defined as "the incidence or prevalence of a disease or of all diseases in a population." Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (27th Ed. 1988) at 1053. "Mortality" is defined as the "[f]requency or number of deaths in proportion to a population; date rate." American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Ed. 1982).

4 Data and reports of occupational illnesses and injuries would receive some protection from disclosure independent of 19a-25 under the Freedom of Information Act. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-19(b)(2) exempts from mandatory disclosure "medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-19(b)(2). Reports which have medical information regarding identifiable individuals would not be subject to disclosure under this provision. However, other legal process, such as a subpoena, could secure such record but for the confidentiality provided by 19a-25.


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