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Aids Groups Want To Limit Access To Files Clients’ Privacy Jeopardized When Auditors Compiled List

Thu., April 4, 1996

Two dozen groups that use federal funds to provide services to AIDS patients asked a judge Wednesday to limit government access to their files after auditors compiled a list of client names during an inspection.

The coalition of agencies, which provide services under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act, known as CARE, say the auditors jeopardized their mission.

Providers fear that because of the stigma attached to AIDS, people with the virus will not seek treatment if confidentiality is not guaranteed.

“We tell people you can come in and get services confidentially, but now we’re saying it’s confidential but a bunch of federal thugs might come and look at it and drag it around the city,” said A.G. Breitenstein, lawyer for the Boston-area coalition.

The auditors compiled a list of 78 names after the Haitian Multiservice Center failed to provide documentation that those clients were entitled to services by testing positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or the disease itself.

The names were then shown to a city official in charge of AIDS services for confirmation of their HIV status, the coalition said.

Coalition members said the auditors could have relied on codes used by service providers, rather than names, for verification.

“We completely understand their need for audits but it’s possible to do an audit without seeing client identifiers,” said Denise McWilliams of the Boston AIDS Consortium.

McWilliams said the coalition did not know when the court might rule. The defendants typically have a month to file a response.

She said that in addition to an injunction to prevent auditors from looking at names, the coalition wants a federal judge to rule that the auditors both violated constitutional privacy and exceeded their authority. They aren’t seeking damages.


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