Two employees of Bridgeway Behavioral Health (St. Charles, Mo.) have been charged in St. Charles County Court with “interference with legal process” for actions they took in November when, under provisions of 42 CFR Part 2 – the law that protects the confidentiality of patients involved in designated substance abuse treatment facilities - they refused to admit St. Peter Mo. police armed with a search warrant to a Bridgeway facility.
Charges against the two women, Bridgeway site director Stacy Glenn, LCSW and assistant site director Chrissy Rupp, were announced on January 14 by the St. Charles County prosecutor, according to David Chernof, Bridgeway’s Director of Quality and Standards, who was interviewed by Behavioral Healthcare.
Three officers showed up at Bridgway’s residential treatment site on Thursday morning, November 14 about 10 AM, showing a warrant for the arrest of an individual that police believed to be on the premises, according to Chernof, who spoke to the police at that time. “I inspected the warrant and did not see any reference to 42 CFR Part 2 in it, so I asked the officers to wait.”
Then Chernof did what any provider asked a similar question might do. He explained that typically, if a client is a patient and is present, the provider should offer the client the option of voluntarily surrendering to police. Should a client refuse to surrender, Chernof said that procedure dictates a provider inform the police about the provisions of the law, while neither confirming or denying the presence of the individual.
“We handed the officers the information about the provisions of 42 CFR and they left,” he reported. But officers returned later, about 6 PM, to demand access. This time, they were armed with a search warrant and more details about the individual’s identity. “Our employees looked at the warrant, which still did not make mention of 42 CFR Part 2, and refused to admit the police,” said Chernof. “They contacted me and I arrived shortly thereafter.”
Eventually, the facility yielded to the police search, but the individual was not found. A report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes police as saying that during the delay, the individual climbed out of a window at the facility and fled on foot. The same report says that police later arrested Matthew David Walker, 23, for a parole violation after their search found him hiding in a shed about a mile from his home.
Despite the insistence of police to enter the treatment facility, Chernof maintains that the Bridgeway personnel who refused them did nothing wrong. “The confidentiality requirements are often not understood or are misunderstood, even by police,” he explained, pointing to an inch-thick guide to federal drug and alcohol confidentiality law published by the Legal Action Center. “42 CFR Part 2 requires personnel in a designated program to protect the confidentiality of a client unless they receive a specific court order that makes reference to the law and compels them to breach it," he continued. Chernof points out that the statute does not require a treatment program or its personnel “to offer forcible resistance to police" to protect a client. On the other hand, he added, “Ordinarily, personnel aren’t arrested and charged” for their efforts to comply with this complicated law, which was drafted in the 1970s to protect information about patients participating in addiction treatment programs from being released to others without patient consent.
Chernof said that an attorney, working on behalf of Bridgeway, is working with the St. Charles County prosecutor in hopes of getting the charges dropped. “We can understand the police’s reaction,” Chernof said of the charges. “We’ve since improved our internal policies and practices to address this type of situation. We don’t want to be seen as a safe harbor for criminals, yet many of our clients - people in treatment - have arrest records and sometimes active warrants. We cannot simply open our doors when the police are looking for someone.”
“We believe that we come away from this experience with better procedures, and with a stronger relationship with the St. Peter’s police department and the St. Charles County prosecutor,” said Chernof.