Journalists to provide input in talks on information released in public health emergencies

Jeff Porter

About Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter is the director of education for AHCJ and plays a lead role in planning conferences, workshops and other training events. He also leads the organization's data collection and data instruction efforts.

Local, state and federal health officials from around the country will gather Friday with journalists to start developing guidelines on how much information health officials should release about deaths during a public health emergency or outbreak.

The meeting springs from concerns that AHCJ raised last year about the wide variations in the type of information disclosed when people died from H1N1.

Health officials in some states revealed such details as age and town of residence. Others merely acknowledged that someone somewhere had died. The discrepancies became the topic of news reports and may have led to public distrust of health authorities.

AHCJ approached the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which agreed to sponsor a meeting. ASTHO invited representatives from the federal government, state health departments, county and municipal health departments, and public information officers, along with AHCJ. Fifteen people are expected to participate.

At the meeting, to be held at ASTHO headquarters in Crystal City, Va., participants plan to discuss the reasons for withholding and releasing certain types of information, and will try to agree on guiding principles for health officers as they face such decisions in the future.

“We are grateful to ASTHO for organizing and hosting this meeting,” said Charles Ornstein, AHCJ president. “We hope that it will lead to establishing minimum standards for what information should be released during public health emergencies or outbreaks, and that will result in better information for the public when it is most needed.”

AHCJ will be represented by Ornstein; Felice J. Freyer, AHCJ Right to Know Committee chair; and Rose Hoban of North Carolina Public Radio. Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, is scheduled to attend, and Gretchen Michael, ASPR director of communications, will lead the discussion.

Have you been denied information from your local or state health department during an outbreak or emergency? AHCJ wants to know so these issues can be raised during the meeting. Send your stories to felice.freyer@cox.net.

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