San Juan – The Puerto Rico Department of Health was sued again this past Monday for not providing public information and ignoring requests for data and reports related to its response to hurricanes Irma and María, the 2020 earthquakes, and Hurricane Fiona.
This is the fifth time that the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) has turned to the court to order Health to comply with the right of access to information.
“The CPI oversees and continuously monitors the effects and consequences of socio-environmental disasters, especially the public health response to serve populations that depend on electric power services to survive, and the Department of Health has not provided us the information, which we’ve been requesting since October,” said Carla Minet, the CPI’s executive director.
The legal recourse for access to public information presented in the San Juan Superior Court requests that the Department of Health and its secretary, Dr. Carlos Mellado López, be ordered to provide the requested information in compliance with Article 4 of the Transparency Act (Act 141 -2019) and the constitutional principles on access to information in Puerto Rico.
CPI journalist Eliván Martínez Mercado requested the information from Department spokespersons, which include reports, communications, and corrective plans that must be in the hands of the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s Biosafety Office, which is designated for public health readiness and response.
He specifically requested the reports from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) of the U.S. Department of Health for Hurricanes Irma and María, the 2020 earthquakes and Hurricane Fiona, and which the local Department of Health’s Office of Biosafety received.
The ASPR is the federal agency that leads medical and public health preparedness, response, and recovery from disasters and other public health emergencies.
The CPI also requested the “Threat, Vulnerability and Risk Analysis” reports for the years 2014 to 2017 or the database of patients who depend on electricity and who are connected to devices that extend their life, under what is known as the federal “emPOWER” program.
The journalist also requested communications from 2017 to 2023 between the Health Department’s Biosafety Office and its partners, public or private, related to electricity-dependent patients.
The legal remedy states that it is not necessary to receive personal or protected health information about patients. That data can be redacted or deleted in each document to be delivered.
The Transparency Act establishes as public policy that the information and documentation produced by the government is presumed public and accessible to all people equally.
The CPI is represented in this case by attorneys Carlos Francisco Ramos Hernández, Luis José Torres Asencio, and Steven P. Lausell Recurt of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico Law School’s Access to Information Clinic.