NILES - Local law enforcement agencies are being forced to change how they handle suspects seeking medical treatment now that ValleyCare Health System put an end to "police holds," citing federal privacy laws.
Niles police Chief Rob Hinton received a letter on July 17 notifying him of the new policy, which he claims is a draw on resources for his department.
"The procedure we used to have was in place for years, where they would let us know when a patient we brought there was being discharged," Hinton said.
According to the notification letter from Jay de los Reyes, Trumbull Memorial Hospital chief operating officer, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 - HIPAA - regulations as well as company policies dictate what information can and cannot be shared without patient authorization.
"The police hold practice which you are accustomed to does not satisfy those requirements," the letter states.
Under the old policy, if a suspect in a crime was being treated at a hospital, police would be notified when the suspect was released.
The Warren Police Department confirmed they also received a notification.
In a statement released by Trish Hrina, vice president of marketing and public relations with ValleyCare, the hospital group that represents Trumbull Memorial and Northside hospitals maintains it is working with law enforcement to ensure understanding of the policy.
"We value our relationship with local law enforcement and the officers who provide important services to our community," Hrina said.
"Federal patient privacy laws guide what information our hospital can and cannot share. We are communicating with local authorities to ensure they are aware of the policies we have established to comply with these laws,'' she said.
Officials said departments may have to begin assigning an officer to the hospital where a suspect is being treated.
"We had a domestic violence case this past weekend where the suspect was admitted to TMH," Hinton said. "Because it happened over the weekend, the person couldn't see the judge until Monday, but we weren't alerted when the suspect was released.
"The victim was in fear and we had to call and explain the situation to them," he said.
One possible solution, Hinton said, would be placing an officer on stand-by at the hospital when a suspect is being treated. However, with a department already facing budget cuts, it is difficult for the department to assign an officer to one person for what could be a 72-hour stay before an arraignment.
"That's taxpayer money sitting on one person," Hinton said.
Hinton said he will discuss the matter further next month when he meets with health care officials.