AMED’s quiet time concerning

Last week produced plenty of rumblings in Harrisburg about the Wolf administration’s alleged secretive handling of information about where coronavirus cases had been identified.

The concerns came as no surprise since, it was argued, first-responders should be aware, as much as possible, about whether someone afflicted with COVID-19 lives at an address to which they are being summoned.

Having that knowledge seems logical although, if such information weren’t handled carefully, there conceivably could be problems related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — HIPAA — the 1996 federal law that restricts access to individuals’ private medical information.

The current dispute over corona­virus-related information includes whether the state Department of Health should be forcing officials of the commonwealth’s 67 counties to sign a non-disclosure agreement as the pathway to the department sharing knowledge about coronavirus presence — or non-presence.

All considered, the issue deserves the many viewpoints it has generated in this state’s Legislature and in county governmental chambers, because of all that is at stake — not only for first-responders, but also families impacted by the virus.

Perhaps not now as much, but there was a time when people were, for example, reluctant to admit that a family member had been diagnosed as having cancer or some other illness that they preferred not to divulge or discuss.

At this time, such reluctance might still apply in a significant way regarding AIDS, although great strides have been made in terms of controlling it.

But another troubling issue has sprung forth related to COVID-19 that needs important dialogue and reassurance, going forward, and that issue jumped to the forefront in Blair County last week.

A Mirror article Thursday focused on ambulance officials’ concerns that the coronavirus might be killing people indirectly — people who were refusing to summon first-responders and otherwise seek medical help for serious problems, because of fears of contracting the killer virus.

In many cases, individuals have died as a result of opting not to seek medical help for that reason.

Hollidaysburg American Legion Ambulance Service Executive Director Jessica Sorge put the matter into the right perspective, as follows:

“A lot of elderly folks here are scared. Instead of taking Grandma to the hospital because of a little chest discomfort, people are calling the funeral home (instead).”

AMED Executive Director Gary Watters also made an excellent point — that at this time people probably are less likely to pick up a communicable disease in a health care facility in this county than they normally would be. He said everyone is wearing masks and employees are hypervigilant about cleaning and disinfection.

Therefore, it is the wrong choice to be reluctant about seeking medical help in a place like Blair County, which is far from being a “hot spot” in terms of COVID-19 infection.

State and local officials will reach an amicable and legal conclusion eventually regarding dissemination of coronavirus-related information to first-responders. However, most important now is that people confronted with a potentially serious medical issue place their trust in the capable local first-responders and medical community here that merit their confidence and trust.

Like in the past, before COVID-19, the right decision must again become obvious and easy.


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