Raleigh, NC: Today, Judge William Osteen in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina, issued an order requiring Moses Cone Hospital to turn over peer review documents to Disability Rights North Carolina. The order arises out of a complaint filed by Disability Rights NC in 2011 when the hospital refused to release peer review documents in response to Disability Rights NC’s investigation into the death of a patient with mental illness.

As North Carolina’s designated protection and advocacy (P&A) system for people with disabilities, Disability Rights NC has the authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of individuals with mental illness. An important part of this authority is the right to access all records of an individual whose death may have been the result of abuse and neglect. The hospital gave Disability Rights NC access to some of the patient’s records but asserted that internal peer review documents were privileged.

Kristine Sullivan, attorney with Disability Rights NC, said, “As the P&A, Disability Rights NC must have full access to all records to adequately investigate suspicious deaths of individuals with mental illness when they are hospitalized. It’s the only way we can fulfill our most basic function: to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.” In this case, the patient died after being physically restrained by hospital staff.

In its first five years as North Carolina’s P&A (2007-2012), staff at Disability Rights NC reviewed 779 reports of deaths occurring in hospitals and facilities in the state.

A similar case regarding the P&A’s authority to access peer review documents is pending in the U.S. District Court, Western District of North Carolina, against Frye Regional Medical Center.

Read Judge Osteen’s order and judgment at www.disabilityrightsnc.org.