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Right to know nothing? NH can learn from CMC's lead

September 07. 2013 6:57PM

Gov. Maggie Hassan and state government officials could take a lesson in openness from Dr. Joe Pepe and Catholic Medical Center. Where CMC was candid and comprehensive in handling a sensitive, complicated matter last week, the state, in notable cases, seemed to have contracted lockjaw.

CMC held a news conference to inform the public that a brain-surgery patient who died this summer may have had an extremely rare and fatal ailment, Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. The disease can remain present in surgical equipment no matter its level of sterilization.

CMC determined that several patients had undergone brain surgery using the same equipment and moved to notify them of the very slight chance that they might be affected.

CMC could have left it at that. But rather than let rumors spread, Dr. Pepe informed the news media and did a good job of educating the public about a little-known, little-understood disease.

To his credit, state Public Health Director Dr. Jose Montero was with Dr. Pepe at the CMC news conference. But he declined to identify another state or states where, he said, five more patients faced similar circumstances. (It has since been identified at a Cape Cod hospital.)

We don't know why Montero didn't say so, but we do know he also refused last week to quickly identify a New Hampshire company whose 600 workers may have been exposed to measles. Noting that measles is highly-contagious and potentially serious, Montero said company employees would not be allowed back to work until yesterday unless they could show proof of vaccination or previous measles contraction.

Pretty serious stuff. But if you wondered if you or a friend or family member might have been in contact with one of these 600 people or their families, you were out of luck. Dr. Montero refused our requests to identify the company.

We had to file a right-to-know request, which was unanswered as of Friday.

This from the same state government that oversees a state pension system that overpaid two retirees by more than half a million dollars. When a settlement of those cases was announced, we were refused the details until we filed a right-to-know request. Turns out, the pair will repay $40,000, just a fraction of what was overpaid.

We have heard from readers upset with this settlement.

They should be equally upset that their government keeps so much public information from them in the first place.

Information like the state knowing for months that Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's Obamacare offering will exclude a dozen hospitals and related physician offices across the state.

Rather than finding ways to let people know this, Gov. Hassan's spokesman tried to blame Republican opposition to Obamacare.

Hassan, captain of what she likes to call our "all hands on deck state," might set a better example of sharing information with the "crew" of the S.S. New Hampshire.

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