FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Susan Rubinowitz, Joseph F. Pisani and Greenwich Time,

 

Complainants,

 

against Docket #FIC 87-188

 

Greenwich Emergency Medical Service and Executive Director and Board of Directors, Greenwich Emergency Medical Service,

 

Respondents February 24, 1988

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on December 15, 1987, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found:

 

1. By letter dated June 18, 1987, the complainants requested the respondents provide them with copies of:

 

a. the log book for the Parkway School ambulance station, describing activity at the station, and

 

b. the ambulance dispatch record book, describing all ambulance calls and response times.

 

2. By letter dated July 1, 1987, and filed with the Commission on July 2, 1987, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging they received no response to their request.

 

3. The respondents claim they are not public agencies and not subject to the open records provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The respondents further claim that even if they were public agencies, the requested records are medical records exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

4. As to whether the respondent Greenwich Emergency Medical Service ("GEMS") was created by government, the following facts are found:

 

a. In 1980 the Greenwich First Selectman's office commissioned a study and report to help determine the

 

Docket #87-188 Page Two

 

ambulance needs of the town of Greenwich.

 

b. At that time, to obtain ambulance transport a Greenwich resident called either 911, the local police or the local firehouse, and then either the police or firefighters dispatched an ambulance.

 

c. In May 1983 the Greenwich First Selectman appointed a health officer to work through the First Selectman's office to improve the emergency medical system.

 

d. In the early 1980s there was much discussion among town officials as to whether emergency medical services should be overseen by the First Selectman or the Greenwich Department of Health.

 

e. The First Selectman elected in 1983 wanted the Board of Health to initiate any new emergency medical services.

 

f. In February 1984 the Greenwich Board of Health sought funding from the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation, as well as the Representative Town Meeting, to create an emergency medical service office.

 

g. In that budget request the Board of Health proposed a certain medical emergency system which the First Selectman and the Board of Estimate and Taxation eventually approved and which the town still uses today.

 

h. A large part of the initial funding for the new service came from the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting, and other initial funding from Greenwich Hospital was conditional on the town's financial participation.

 

5. Thus it is concluded that, although the respondent Greenwich Emergency Medical Service ("GEMS") was chartered as a private non-stock corporation, it was created by government to a significant extent.

 

6. As to whether GEMS is funded by government, the following facts are found:

 

a. In 1986, when GEMS began operating, the town of Greenwich provided $108,000 for its initial costs and $245,000 for its operating expenses.

 

b. In 1987, the town budgeted $250,000 for GEMS's operating expenses.

 

Docket #FIC 87-188 Page Three

 

c. For 1988, the Board of Health has proposed the town provide another $250,000 for GEMS's operating expenses.

 

d. One of GEMS's three stations, its headquarters, is located in part of the Parkway School and GEMS pays no rent for the use of this town-owned property.

 

e. The town of Greenwich pays $1,750 annually for membership in the Southwest Emergency Medical Service Council, a regional organization, from which GEMS directly benefits.

 

f. The town pays $10,000 annually to fund C-MED, a VHF medical frequency that provides radio transmission between ambulances and hospitals, from which GEMS directly benefits.

 

g. GEMS buys its gas at about half the retail price through the town fire department for an annual savings of approximately $12,000 - $15,000.

 

h. GEMS uses the town's 911 emergency system and directly benefits from the town's annual funding for that system of approximately $250,000 - $300,000.

 

i. GEMS's plan for responding to calls for emergency medical service assigns the task of being the first to respond to the Greenwich police, thus making the town police department an integral part of GEMS's overall operation.

 

j. Those police officers who have the required emergency medical training to provide this first response receive extra compensation of approximately $1,000 a year.

 

k. The Greenwich fire department spent $2,000 in 1987 for special first-responder equipment kits so that they may back-up the police in providing first response emergency medical service.

 

l. The ambulance formerly used by the town police department was donated to GEMS, along with about $6,000 worth of equipment.

 

7. Thus it is concluded that, although GEMS does not receive all its funds from government sources, it is funded and subsidized by government to a significant extent.

 

8. As to whether GEMS is regulated by government, the following facts are found:

 

Docket #FIC 87-188 Page Four

 

a. The Commission takes administrative notice of 19a-175 through 19a-195, G.S., which detail the state regulation of emergency medical services, including licensing, certification, and public hearings; financial requirements and insurance; requirements for training, equipment and personnel; sanctions for violations; inspection and registration of ambulances; communications systems; public education; volunteer personnel and paramedics; and regional councils.

 

b. GEMS is regulated by these statutes, as well as further regulations, which the statutes authorize, of the state Department of Health and its Office of Emergency Medical Services.

 

c. The municipal government regulates GEMS's use of its headquarters property, the 911 telephone system, the police and fire departments as first responders, the municipal gasoline purchasing arrangements, and the budget processes of the Department of Health, the Board of Estimates and Taxation, and the Representative Town Meeting.

 

9. Although the Commission recognizes that all health care providers, both public and private, are regulated carefully by the state government, it concludes that the Greenwich municipal government is involved integrally in GEMS's operations and that GEMS is regulated by government.

 

10. As to whether GEMS performs a governmental function, the following facts are found:

 

a. GEMS currently performs a service previously performed by the municipal police and fire departments.

 

b. The municipal police and fire departments are still an integral part of that service.

 

c. Although private companies do provide emergency medical service, in the town of Greenwich such service traditionally has been a governmental function; the town considered hiring a private company and decided not to do so, because the service and its arrangements with the town were different from what the town desired; and the town chose a system that includes several town departments.

 

11. Thus it is concluded that GEMS performs a governmental function.

 

12. It is further concluded that GEMS and the other

 

Docket #87-188 Page Five

 

respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a, G.S., and subject to the open meetings requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

13. It is found that the respondents have not provided the complainants with copies of the records described in paragraph 1, above.

 

14. It is found that GEMS is the custodian of the records described in paragraph 1, above.

 

15. It is found that the record described in paragraph 1a, above, the log book, contains information on the crews' daily activities, such as responding to a call, putting gas in the ambulance, and leaving at the end of a shift.

 

16. It is found that the log book also contains the names and addresses of patients and those who call GEMS for assistance, as well as brief medical information about patients.

 

17. It is found that disclosing the information described in paragraph 16, above, would invade the personal privacy of those who are named.

 

18. It is concluded that the respondents violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by not providing the complainants with copies of the log book, excluding the information described in paragraph 16, above.

 

19. It is found that the record described in paragraph 1b, above, the dispatch book, contains each patient's name, address, initial and working diagnoses, description of attitude, possibility of substance abuse, etc. The dispatch book also tracks the patient through the system, assigns the billing, and documents the crew's response time.

 

20. It is found that disclosing the information described in paragraph 19, above, other than the crews' response times, would invade the personal privacy of the patients named.

 

21. It is found that the dispatch is an over-sized volume and contains one long line of information for each patient, making disclosure of only the response times a time-consuming task.

 

22. Nonetheless, it is concluded that the respondents violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by not providing the complainants with the recorded response times.

 

Docket #FIC 87-188 Page Six

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

 

1. The respondents henceforth shall act in strict compliance with 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

2. The respondents forthwith shall provide the complainants with a copy of the record described in paragraph 1a of the findings above. In complying with this paragraph of the order, the respondents may mask or otherwise delete the information described in paragraph 16 of the findings above.

 

3. The respondents forthwith shall provide the complainants with a copy of the record described in paragraph 1b of the findings above. In complying with this paragraph of the order, the respondents may mask or otherwise delete the information described in paragraph 19 of the findings above, or devise some other method, so long as at least the response times are fully disclosed.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 24, 1988.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission