MHC raises concerns with new Freedom of Information Act

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

MINDEMOYA—Members of the Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) board of directors are concerned with the costs and the administrative workload that will come with the new provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) process that hospitals have to follow as of January 1, 2012.

“This could represent a huge administrative burden,” said board member Michael Shain at a recent MHC board meeting in January. “And I wonder if it may be premature to ask or if we know what the costs will be on an annual basis and how many requests for information we expect to receive.”

Lynn Love, manager of health records for MHC explained, “the way the process works, requests for information will come in and go to (Derek Graham, MHC CEO) and he will assess them, then go from him to the head of the department where the request has been made, then we will come up with an assessment of time it will take to provide the information requested, then look at the costs.”

Until the first year of this act is in place and the MHC has a chance to gauge the number of requests that have been made, it would be impossible to gauge the costs and work involved, said Mr. Graham. “There are two sources I feel we may get the most requests from, political parties or union groups,” the CEO said. “From the general public or the media we are not expecting there will be a lot of requests for information.”

Ms. Love informed the board that as of January 1, 2012 all Ontario hospitals are now subject to the FIPPA process, and that the hospital “is obligated to respond to requests for information.”

In its statement of policy, Ms. Love said, “Manitoulin Health Centre recognizes that an appropriate balance must be determined between the right of public access to non-personal health information collected and held by our organization and the right of privacy that is due to patients, staff and other individuals. This policy explains both the implementation and ongoing obligations for compliance that hospitals have under the Act.”

In providing information on the Act and the responsibilities of MHC, Ms. Love explained the board chair is accountable for the hospital’s overall compliance with FIPPA. This includes clear written delegation of authority to the CEO and FOI/PHIPA Officer. Routine compliance reports (which will take place at least annually) shall be reviewed by the board chair so there is evidence that the hospital responds to FOI requests in compliance with FIPPA and personal information is collected, used, disclosed, retained, and disposed of in accordance with FIPPA.

The MHC has to create an inventory of records to utilize as a directory and update annually, while FIPPA establishes a right for every person to access information held by hospitals, and provides a formal process for people to exercise that right by making a FOI request. A FOI request is a written request for a record in the custody or control of a hospital (provided that the record was in the custody or control of the hospital on or after January 1, 2007). An accompanying $5 application fee shall be provided along with the written request.

There are two categories of FOI requests: a request for one’s own personal information (except for a request for personal health information) and a general records request—all other requests, including requests for the personal information of other individuals.

A record includes information on paper (whether handwritten or printed), in an email or electronic file (whether on a desktop, laptop or smart phone), or a photograph, audio or videotape, or other method of storing information.

The board was told there is a series of types of records that are excluded from the FIPPA, meaning that FIPPA does not apply to these records. For example, the public does not have a right of access to excluded records, for example personal health information (as defined in the Personal health Information Protection Act), and quality of care information.

“After the next 12 months expire will a report be made to the board as to the number of responses to requests of information that have been made and the costs involved?” asked Mr. Shain, which he was informed will be the case.

It was pointed out with a cost in regards to applying for information in place, it will hopefully keep frivolous requests for information to a minimum.