The Boise Weekly's efforts to open a sealed state investigation into Intermountain Hospital have stalled, for now, after a ruling from District Court.
In a ruling issued late Tuesday, Judge Michael McLaughlin ruled against the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and BW, both of whom had resisted a move to seal the state's records of its investigation into the conduct of the troubled psychiatric hospital.
BW has yet to decide whether it will appeal the decision, according to publisher Sally Freeman.
Deputy Attorney General Robert Luce, who represents the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, was not immediately available for comment.
"I am surprised by the decision," said David Gratton, BW's attorney from the firm Evans, Keane LLP. "The people of the state should be entitled to information the state gathers relative to the conduct of people licensed by the state."
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.