The city of Hattiesburg, Ms., should release the health information of victims in emergency situations to the media because it is a public body and not covered by a federal privacy law, says Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office. The Hattiesburg American said the attorney general's opinion resulted from attempts by the newspaper American to get information from the Hattiesburg police and fire departments.
City officials said the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – better known as HIPAA – applied to the city. The law prohibits the release of information about those who have undergone medical treatment. Violation is punishable by fines or imprisonment. The issue was raised last year when the police department refused to release the address of where two local residents were believed to have been slain. In October, the fire chief stopped releasing information, including the specific addresses of fire calls, because he said it violated HIPAA.