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Division Policy 2.03

SUBJECT

Confidentiality and Release of Client Information

EFFECTIVE DATE

November 19, 1999

REVIEW DATE

April 22, 2013

EXPIRATION DATE

This policy will be reviewed and updated as needed.

PURPOSE

To ensure the confidentiality and privacy of client information.

AUTHORITY

34 CFR 361.38

POLICY

One of the rights common to all DBS rehabilitation programs is the right to confidentiality.  Referral, applicant, and client information must be safeguarded.  New employees and volunteers of DBS must know the procedures concerning the release of confidential information.  Evidence of this understanding is required by signing DBS-019 Form - Compliance with Confidentiality Procedures.

Florida Statutes state that applicant and client records are confidential (FS 413.012).  All oral and written records, information, letters, and reports pertaining to rehabilitation programs under DBS are confidential and must not be made available for public disclosure.  Anyone who releases or discloses such records, information, or communications without proper authorization may be found guilty of a misdemeanor in the second degree. 

The major Federal and State requirements are summarized subsequently:

  • Applicants, clients, service providers, and cooperating agencies must be informed of the confidentiality of personal information and the conditions under which it may be released. Division staff should not release any information to a third party except in case of litigation, which is discussed in detail within this procedure.  Applicant and client information is routinely sent to contracting facilities and to the Rehabilitation Center because it is needed in the applicants or client's rehabilitation process.  Clients and applicants will be told how this information will be used and sign a release indicating their agreement.  When sensitive information is part of the record, such as documentation of a sexually transmitted disease, DBS Staff will ensure that the client knows that this is part of the case record.  She/he may not want that part of the record forwarded to the third party and has the right to have this information withheld.
  • Records, which do not identify clients or applicants, may be released for the purpose of research, when the DBS Director approves the research.  DBS periodically provides statistical data to researchers and other agencies providing rehabilitation services.
  • When requested in writing by an applicant or client and/or the individual's parents or representative, DBS must make the record of service accessible or release copies of requested information.  Because data is stored in the AWARE system which is not located in the paper file, a reader, if required, will be provided so the individual has access to her/his records if desired.  If certain information is believed to be harmful if revealed to the person, the records must be provided instead to the individual's representative or physician or a licensed or certified psychologist.  The representative chosen by the person must be honored.
  • Division staff may release information obtained from another agency or organization only under the conditions established by that agency or organization.  Examples would be reports from Veterans hospitals, drug abuse programs, mental health programs, school psychologists, or any diagnostic reports obtained from a cooperating agency or individual at no cost to DBS.
  • Social Security Information may not be released by DBS even with the permission of the client.  Section 1106 of the Social Security Act provides for release of information by SSA in accordance with special procedures.  Applicants or clients will be told to request such information directly from the Social Security Administration.  Applicants or clients may call the Social Security Administration toll free number (800-772-1213), go to the local office, or write to the Social Security Administration to receive the desired information. 
  • Records may be released when necessary to the administration of the program.  DBS may release information to entities of the state or its subdivisions that require the record in the course of the performance of official duties.  Any such entity may not disclose records to third parties without being subject to penalties.
  • Florida Statute 394 requires that if an applicant or a client has declared any intention to harm themselves, other persons, or property, such declaration may be disclosed. Division staff will discuss such a situation with their Supervisor or the District Administrator.  Recommendations from a psychological consultant may be warranted.
  • When records contain listings of several client names, all references to other names must be blocked out prior to placing the document in a case file.
  • When services are provided to families, couples, or groups, Division staff will seek agreement among the parties involved concerning each individual's right to confidentiality and obligation to preserve the confidentiality of information shared by others. Division staff will inform participants in family, couples, or group training that Division staff cannot guarantee that all participants will honor such agreements.
  • Division staff will inform client's family, and groups, employers, and agencies about the policy concerning the disclosure of confidential information among the parties involved in the Rehabilitation process.
  • Division staff will not discuss confidential information in any setting unless privacy can be ensured. Division staff will not discuss confidential information in public or semi-public areas such as hallways, waiting rooms, elevators, and restaurants.
  • To the extent possible, Division staff will inform clients about the disclosure of confidential information and the potential consequences before the disclosure is made. This applies whether Division staff discloses confidential information of a legal requirement or client consent.             
  • Records or information may be released when ordered by a Hearing Officer, Deputy Commissioner, Agency Head exercising quasi-judicial authority, or a judge of a court of competent jurisdiction upon the filing of a complaint, petition, subpoena, or determination proceeding.  It is the Division’s policy that Division staff will notify the District Administrator, the Bureau Chief of Client Services and Program Support, and Director in such situations.   A copy of the request will be sent to the Bureau Chief and Director. District Staff will wait for further instructions from the Bureau Chief. If legal counsel is necessary, the Bureau Chief will contact the Florida Department of Education attorneys for legal advice.
  • Division staff will protect the confidentiality of clients during legal proceedings to the extent permitted by law. When a court of law or other legally authorized body orders Division staff to disclose confidential or privileged information without a client's consent and such disclosure could cause harm to the client, Division staff will:
    1. Site Florida Statues 413.012 which prohibits the disclosure of confidential information, and
    2. Request that the court withdraw the order or limit the order as narrowly as possible; and/or
    3. Request that the court maintain the records under seal and unavailable for public inspection. 
  • Florida Statutes 415 and 394 requires that Division staff protect the confidentiality of all information obtain, except for compelling professional reasons. The general expectation that Division staff will keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or other identifiable person or when laws or regulations require disclosure without a client's consent. In all instances, Division staff will disclose the least amount of confidential information necessary to achieve the desired purpose; only information that is directly relevant to the purpose for which the disclosure is made should be revealed.

Original signed by Aleisa McKinlay, Director, on April 22, 2013.