For the Record

BW hunts for Intermountain Hospital inquiry records


A potentially damning investigation into the operation of Intermountain Hospital will remain off-limits to public inquiry, for now.

After hearing oral arguments from attorneys for the hospital, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Boise Weekly, District Judge Michael McLaughlin last week gave attorneys until March 5 to present new information before he takes the case under advisement.

At question is whether an investigation into the operations of Intermountain Hospital's residential teen care unit is a public record. BW had requested a copy of the investigation's findings in December under the Idaho Open Records Act. According to the Idaho Statesman, that newspaper and KTVB Channel 7 made similar requests.

Intermountain, located at 303 N. Allaumbaugh, is Boise's only private psychiatric facility. Over several years it has been the subject of numerous complaints for understaffing, patient assaults on staff and fellow patients, medication errors, inappropriate discharges for financial reasons and, in one case settled out of court, the wrongful death of a teenage patient (BW News, "A Gathering Storm, 08/02/2006). The most recent incidents involved what adolescent patients and their parents referred to as a "riot" that required intervention by Boise police. Intermountain has temporarily closed the unit.

When they began their investigation, Health and Welfare spokesman Ross Mason confirmed that Intermountain's violations are potentially serious enough to put its licensure into question.

Within a month, Intermountain had filed a complaint in District Court to keep those documents closed. They won a temporary restraining order from District Judge Joel Horton, who agreed with Intermountain that release of the investigation's records would result in "immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage." Judge Horton, who has since recused himself from the case, ordered all records of the case sealed.

At the hearing last week, Intermountain attorney Mark Peterson told Judge McLaughlin said the investigation contained sensitive information about patients and staff, and should remain closed.

"Intermountain feels an obligation to do what it can to see that these records are protected," Peterson said.

Peterson also said release of the documents could have a "chilling effect" on any such hospital's desire to seek an operating license with the state of Idaho.

Robert Luce, attorney for Health and Welfare, argued that the agency should be allowed to release the documents.

"The people of Idaho have a right to know," Luce said.

David Gratton, BW's attorney, said the investigation records had to do with the conduct of a licensee of the state, and as such were subject to public records requests.

"Profit, in this context is absolutely irrelevant," Gratton said. "Their license may be at risk. Parents and the public need to know about investigations like this."

McLaughlin gave attorneys until March 5 to file further briefs about the matter. Idaho Statesman managing editor Bill Manny said his newspaper is still trying to decide how to proceed.