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Health department officials say errors made in school meeting

Thursday, April 17, 2014 8:05 PM
Last updated Friday, April 18, 2014 1:41 AM
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Officials with the Richmond County Health Department acknowledged Thursday that public health employees improperly denied requests for information and attempted to bar photographs during a public meeting about tuberculosis-testing procedures at Hephzibah High School.

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Hephzibah High School Principal Walter Reeves encouraged parents to stay calm, assuring them that the school was following proper procedure for addressing possible tuberculosis exposure.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Hephzibah High School Principal Walter Reeves encouraged parents to stay calm, assuring them that the school was following proper procedure for addressing possible tuberculosis exposure.

Reporters and photographers from The Augusta Chronicle and local television stations were admonished not to shoot video, take photographs or ask questions during Wednesday’s meeting, which was held to inform the public about possible exposure to TB bacteria at the school.

Tammy Burdeaux, District Nursing and Clinical Director with the East Central Health District, said the meeting was assembled to inform everyone about the ongoing TB testing and the media was meant to attend.

“It was an informational meeting. I made sure the media was invited,” Burdeaux said. “The person who ended up giving the presentation was not experienced with talking to media. We apologize for that.”

Yumuriel Whitaker, the Richmond County TB nurse leading Wednesday’s presentation, said that a small group of people at the high school who came in close, prolonged contact with the person showing symptoms would be tested Monday to see if the disease had spread.

Whitaker stopped her presentation when an Augusta Chronicle photographer began to take pictures, refusing to continue until the photographer stopped and moved to the back of the room. Even then, the photographer was blocked from taking pictures by a person identified as a teacher by members of the assembly.

Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey said Thursday he would contact the school’s principal about whether a teacher had been involved. Thursday night, he said he had not heard back from the principal.

Reporters from local television stations were also prevented from filming the meeting. After the presentation, public health employees refused to answer questions or give their names to reporters.

Burdeaux said that traumatic experiences with TV reporters and photographers in the past probably contributed to the reaction of the public health employees to media requests.

“They’ve had bad experiences before with reporters,” Burdeaux said. “Some of them came to our TB clinics uninvited. When they were asked to leave, they stalked our patients in the parking lot. They’ve seen things like that before. If you think about that, it’s understandable why they would be afraid of what could happen.”

Larry Walker, Public Relations Information Coordinator for East Central Health District, said the confusion during the meeting was definitely an “isolated incident” and that he wished he had done more to inform media personnel during the meeting that he could have answered their questions.

“I did not know that Augusta Chronicle reporters were in the meeting till later,” Walker said. “By the time I tried to find them, it was already too late and the meeting was over. This is not how we want things to happen. I take the blame on that.”

Ultimately, both Burdeaux and Walker said they would make sure information will be provided to both media and the public in an open manner.

Staff Writer Sean Gruber can be reached at sean.gruber@morris.com

Comments (11) Add comment
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specsta
6355
Points
specsta 04/18/14 - 12:02 am
16
0
I'll Make It Simple

Okay, let's get this straight - if you are holding a public meeting on public property then you should expect to be videotaped, photographed, interviewed or anything else that the media does when covering a PUBLIC event. And it's not only the media who can record you, it's anyone else with a camera.

Hence, the word - public.

Capiche?

gargoyle
15937
Points
gargoyle 04/18/14 - 01:28 am
9
3
It seems there is a rampant

It seems there is a rampant distain for the public by government employee's and elected office holders as of late. It also seems they don't feel the public should question anything they do. I know good public and elected officials exist but they get overshadowed by the self serving incompetent ones who conduct themselves has if they have a royal title. Poor leadership may be to blame such as The president of the school boards Tea or the Augusta Commissions disregard for the public in general in creating this toxic environment.

KSL
126121
Points
KSL 04/18/14 - 02:00 am
6
2
Specsta. You are so right on

Specsta. You are so right on this.

IBeDogGone
2982
Points
IBeDogGone 04/18/14 - 05:49 am
8
1
Information

How does the Board of Health expect important information not be relayed to the public on important issues if not via the media? Seems like this was a huge mistake on many levels.

corgimom
31080
Points
corgimom 04/18/14 - 06:26 am
2
9
If it was just an

If it was just an informational meeting, why the big fuss?

TrulyWorried
13231
Points
TrulyWorried 04/18/14 - 08:13 am
7
1
To Corgi

INFORMational meeting - to inform!!! Everyone needs to be informed when it concerns an infectious illness - I would want to be informed - and the press needs to be informed to let the rest of the folks know. Hence the "FUSS".

nocnoc
41065
Points
nocnoc 04/18/14 - 08:25 am
3
7
While it was a Public gathering

The staff erring on the side of Student and possible HIPPA Privacy rules, I can live with this, in this case .

In other words,
I see no great harm in this error.

seenitB4
85152
Points
seenitB4 04/18/14 - 09:17 am
3
6
noc I agree

This is a serious problem & some are afraid of the news/cameras......give them some time to get the facts on this disease...they deserve a dab of privacy.

specsta
6355
Points
specsta 04/18/14 - 09:39 am
5
1
Information

Nonnoc wrote - "The staff erring on the side of Student and possible HIPPA Privacy rules, I can live with this, in this case ."

There is no privacy when it concerns the containment of a potential outbreak of an infectious disease. Information needs to be shared.

Riverman1
82158
Points
Riverman1 04/18/14 - 09:46 am
4
2
County Officials

If you think any county official in Augusta understands the sunshine law or has any common sense about an informational meeting, I have a house to sell you in Richmond County.

john
934
Points
john 04/18/14 - 10:03 am
5
0
HIPAA

Privacy is privacy. Doenst make any difference if the media is there or not. If they can share information with a room full of people its fit for media.

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