Originally created 11/30/03

Privacy law will affect AIDS event



The glowing luminarias in Augusta every World AIDS Day honor those felled by the disease. But on Monday, the day of the observance this year, they might run afoul of a federal law.

A far-reaching health privacy law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act went into effect earlier this year. It carries stiff civil and criminal penalties for disclosing medical information to unauthorized third parties. And honoring those AIDS victims apparently could be just such a disclosure, said J. Peter Rissing, an infectious disease doctor at the Medical College of Georgia.

Normally, the luminarias are put together by those "who wanted to remember a friend or a loved one and put their name on that," Dr. Rissing said. "Well, that's not HIPAA-compliant."

The Augusta group sponsoring this year's remembrance has gotten an opinion on it and is offering some alternatives.

"They can put their initials on there. They can put the first name on there," Dr. Rissing said.

Families and friends used to ask for names to be included, and health department workers assembled the luminarias, said Willa Mitchell, the communicable diseases coordinator for the East Central Health District. This year, the families will have to inscribe the bags themselves, and they will be asked not to use the last name, Ms. Mitchell said.

Normally, about 75 to 100 will line the path at the beginning of the remembrance walk. This year, they will line the path outside Paine College's Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel. They represent a tiny fraction of the more than 1,400 AIDS cases in this area since the epidemic began, the highest total in the state outside the metro Atlanta area.

Even with the changes, it's hoped that the message from the long rows of lights will still come through, Ms. Mitchell said.

"These are people who have lost their lives to this disease," she said.

WORLD AIDS DAY

Two major events in Augusta on Monday will commemorate World AIDS Day. A balloon release and proclamation from Mayor Bob Young will be at noon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 605 Reynolds St. At 6 p.m., a candlelight vigil and walk will begin at Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel on the Paine College campus.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.