Published April 10, 2020

During the DOJ Public Safety call on April 9th, Governor Bullock clarified the intent of his First Responder Directive. His intent is to ENSURE all first responders, including law enforcement, have the information you need to safely respond to calls while also ensuring the state is in full compliance with HIPAA. To accomplish this, the Governor’s Directive aligns the provisions of Montana law with HIPAA during this emergency to permit the sharing of limited protected public health information in accordance with HIPAA. The Governor’s Directive will ensure law enforcement has access to the information needed and able to reserve limited PPE supplies to those officers and calls that warrant full protective measures.

What Does The Directive Do?

First, for the purpose of obtaining protected health information (PHI), the Directive defines “emergency service provider” as including “law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency care providers, corrections officers, and ambulance service attendants.”

Second, during the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, the Directive allows dispatch centers to receive a daily updated “list” of COVID-19 positive cases from the Local Public Health Officials subject to the provisions of HIPAA . Dispatchers can then use the addresses from the list to inform law enforcement, ONLY in the event of a necessary physical response, that PPE is REQUIRED. Both HIPAA and the Directive, allow a Public Health Official to disclose the minimum necessary PHI to emergency service providers who may come into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, for purposes of preventing or controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Consistent with current federal guidance, only designated dispatchers may receive and maintain the list.1

What Do You Need To Do?

  1. First, you must designate specific individuals in the dispatch center who will obtain and be responsible for protection of the PHI for COVID-19 positive cases received from the public health official.
  2. Second, provide this information on designated dispatchers to your local public health official, and request that those individuals receive the daily updated list of COVID-19 positive cases to provide to first responders and law enforcement in the event of a call for service at the address. For dispatch centers with a CAD system, this should be as simple as making a notion on certain addresses that PPE is REQUIRED. For those dispatch centers without a CAD system, the addresses should be maintained in a protected file. The designated dispatchers may not share the information in any other way, or collect or maintain the information for any other purpose. The dispatch center must establish a procedure for destruction of these records when the Directive expires.
  3. Third, work with your county or city attorney to ensure HIPPA requirements are met and confidentiality is maintained.

Let Us Know Immediately If You Encounter Problems

Please let us know if you continue to experience any problems receiving this limited PHI from your local public health official. All public health officials are expected to comply with the Governor’s directive. Under the Directive, Montana law should not be considered or cited as a barrier to dispatch centers receiving this limited PHI, but disclosures remain subject to the provisions of HIPAA. The Governor’s Directive specifically notes that the Directive should be interpreted to effectuate his intent that the Montana statutes or rules shall not prevent, hinder, or delay this necessary action in coping with this emergency.

1 United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, COVID-19 and HIPAA guidance (https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/covid-19-hipaa-and-first-responders-508.pdf).

Shantil Siaperas  |  MACo Communications Director |  shantil@mtcounties.org  |  (406) 449-4360