60 Op. Att'y Gen. 422 (1971)
 
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Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

30 November 1971

Public Records. Confidentiality   (Informal)

Finance committee of county board probably
has right to inspect applications of
persons seeking home nursing care.

WILLIAM LEITSCH,
Corporation Counsel, Columbia County

You have requested my opinion whether
applications of individuals applying for home
nursing care provided by the county health
committee pursuant to Section 141.10, Stats.,
upon authorization of the county board, are
open to inspection by the finance committee
of the county board. You state that the
finance committee is primarily interested in
the financial statements filed in connection
with such application, which form the basis,
in part, for the charges made for such car

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You further state that the county nurse has
refused to divulge this information on the
grounds that it is privileged and that to
reveal the information to anyone outside her
office might defeat the purposes of the
program.

I am of the opinion that the documents
involved are public records within the
meaning of Section 19.21 Stats., and

State ex rel. Youmans v. Owens (1965),
28 Wis.2d 672,
137 N.W.2d 470,

and that inspection must be granted to any
person unless the custodian in good faith
believes that disclosure would cause harm to
the public interest which would outweigh the
benefit to be derived from granting
inspection. In the latter case, specific
reasons for denial must be given and the
person seeking inspection can then resort to
mandamus to test the sufficiency of the
reasons given. Also note the civil forfeiture
provision for unwarranted failure to permit
inspection found in Section 19.21(4), Stats.

I am aware of no statute which makes the
records referred to confidential, nor do they
appear to fall in areas protected under the
common law. Section 141.10(1), Stats., does
provide that home nursing care shall be
provided under the direction of a physician
of the patient's choice. However, the records
which you are concerned with would not appear
to fall within the doctor-patient privilege
referred to in Section 885.21, Stats.

Leusink v. O'Donnell (1949),
255 Wis. 627,
39 N.W.2d 675.

Reasons which might justify denial of
inspection to members of the general public
probably would not be sufficient in most
cases to foreclose county officers or
committees from inspection where they have an
administrative or legislative duty to perform
in connection with the program.

The county health committee, rather than the
county nurse, may be the responsible
custodian unless such power has been
delegated. You state that Columbia County
does not have a county health department but
does have a county health committee.

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Section 141.06(1), (2) and (3),
Stats., provide:

141.06(1)

   The county health committee may employ
   one or more county public health nurses,
   sanitarians, or other public health
   personnel, when so authorized by the
   county board, to conduct generalized
   public health nursing, environmental
   sanitation, or other public programs
   pursuant to the direction and under the
   supervision of the county health
   committee in cooperation with the
   department.
 

141.06(2)

   The work of the county nurse, county
   sanitarian and other public health
   personnel shall be directed by a county
   health committee composed of 5 or more
   members appointed by the chairman, at
   least 3 of which shall be members of the
   county board, and a representative of
   the department appointed by the state
   health officer.

141.06(3)

   The county board shall approve and make
   an appropriation to carry out this
   section.

Under Section 141.10(1), Stats., the county
board may authorize the county health
committee to establish programs of home
nursing care, and Subsections (2), (3)
and (4) relate to the establishment
and charging of fees therefor.

Subsections (3) and (4) provide:

141.106(3) FEE SCHEDULE.

   A schedule of fees shall be established:

141.106(3)(a)

   As a result of a cost study conducted
   at least every 3 years and filed as
   required with the department after
   approval by the county board
   or city council; or

141.106(3)(b)

   By the adoption of a schedule of fees
   established by the department from
   information gathered by it.

141.106(4)

   CHARGES.

   Persons receiving such home nursing care
   shall not be charged fees in excess of
   the scheduled costs, and shall be
   charged according to their ability to
   pay full or part costs as determined by
   the policy of the county health
   committee or board of health. No person
   shall be denied necessary services,
   within the limits of available
   personnel, because of inability to pay
   the cost of such service. The county
   board or city council shall determine
   the procedure for collecting and
   depositing fees and auditing receipts.

Such records could not be withheld from
county health committee members. It is also
clear that the county board has specific
statutory interest in the authorization of
the program, and the determination of
procedures for collecting, depositing and
auditing receipts.

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The board could delegate some
responsibilities in these areas
to its finance committee.

If it has, such committee would have a right
to inspect records material to its purposes,
even if such records could be withheld from
the public. See related discussion with
respect to welfare records in 59 OAG 240
(1970) at 247, where a specific
confidentiality statute was involved.

RWW:RJV

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