April 25, 1995
Mr. Paul Bouros
Southport Correctional Facility
Pine City, NY 14871
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Bouros:
I have received your letter of March 19 in which you referred to difficulty in obtaining medical records under the Freedom of Information Law from the Suffolk County Jail.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, by way of background, the Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency records, including those maintained by a county jail. In terms of rights granted by the Freedom of Information Law, the Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
With regard to medical records, the Freedom of Information Law, in my view, likely permits that some of those records may be withheld in whole or in part, depending upon their contents. For instance, medical records prepared by Department personnel could be characterized as "intra-agency materials" that fall within the scope of §87(2)(g) of the Freedom of Information Law. To the extent that such materials consist of advice, opinion, recommendation and the like, I believe that the Freedom of Information Law would permit a denial.
Second, in 1987, a new statute, §18 of the Public Health Law, became effective. In brief, that statute generally grants rights of access to medical records to the subjects of the records. As such, that statute may provide greater access to medical records than the Freedom of Information Law. It is suggested that you refer to §18 of the Public Health Law in any request for medical records.
To obtain additional information concerning access to medical records and the fees that may be charged for searching and copying those records, you may write to:
Access to Patient Information Coordinator New York State Department of Health Division of Public Health Protection Corning Tower Building - Room 2517 Empire State Plaza Albany, New York 12237
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Records Access Officer, Suffolk County Jail