Criminal justice system flaws combined with the federal law restricting release of health information can result in weird tales like this one from Colorado: Attorneys in the case of a 91-year-old man accused of sexual assault spent yesterday morning in court trying to determine whether the aging man was fit to stand trial. It turns out he wasn't, says the Grand Junction Daily Sentintel. Ralph Ridenour died nearly a month ago.
A public defender told a judge yesterday that despite repeated requests, Veterans Administration doctors had not produced written verification that Ridenour was healthy enough to stand trial. Ridenour, a convicted sex offender, was arrested Oct. 21 after a nursing home nurse said he threatened to rape her, pulled her pants down, and held onto her sleeve while she tried to escape. Commenting on Ridenour’s intervening death, a VA spokesman said that even attorneys handling criminal cases on behalf of patients can be told nothing if they aren't listed among people with whom hospital officials are allowed to discuss patients. This was an apparent reference to the federal HIPAA law on disclosure of treatment information.