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Wyoming Advocacy Settlement Could Have National Impact
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 12, 2006

CHEYENNE, WYOMING--In a settlement agreement that could affect advocacy efforts in several states, Wyoming has agreed to allow that state's Protection and Advocacy System, Inc. to see medical records of institution residents when it investigates claims of abuse or neglect.

"Hopefully this will spare the taxpayers of all the states the expense that we've had to go through," Jeanne Thobro, executive director of Wyoming's P&A, told the Associated Press.

The federal government authorized protection and advocacy systems in each state that advocate for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. Thobro said P&As in several states are either suing, or plan to sue, over whether the nonprofit agencies have the right to view institution residents' medical information.

The agreement, approved last week by U.S. Judge Alan B. Johnson, stems from a federal lawsuit the P&A filed one year ago, in which it alleged that the state failed to improve conditions, and to provide adequate staff and training at the Wyoming State Hospital. The suit also claimed that the state had violated federal law by refusing to allow them to review health records at the hospital and the Wyoming State Training School.

Under the settlement, the state agreed to allow the P&A to access medical records as long as federal laws require the disclosure and as long as the P&A follows their guidelines within those laws. The agreement also states that P&A staff will not need to give prior notice before accessing the state facilities to investigate mistreatment allegations.

"Records establish facts. Records establish evidence," Thobro said. "To be able to fully argue a case and to be able to fully represent issues, you must have the facts, you must have the issues."

"In a simple statement, it simply helps people," she said.

"'Landmark' ruling on State Hospital" (Star-Tribune)

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