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Right to Know?

Published on February 5th, 2020

On Jan. 3, the Golden Living for profit nursing home chain was required to turn over numerous records showing extreme cases of understaffing, poor care, and falsified records. After numerous law suits from reporters and the state attorney general’s office, the nursing home chain was brought to Court.

It all started when reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie wanted copies of the correspondence between the Health Department and the new owners of Golden Living. The request included all agreements, contracts, leases, and correspondence to and from several department officials, dating back to 2016. Simmons-Ritchie’s argument was based upon Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law while the new owners argued that his request included confidential and secretive trade secrets that were not subject to public release.

Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law, or the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, went into effect in 2009 and was designed to guarantee that the general public has access to public records regarding their state governmental bodies. This act is looked upon as the worst act to be passed in the country only because it said that government records were not already free to the public.

Because the new owners of “Golden Living” could not prove that the release of these records would “result in a substantial competitive injury,” the presiding judge ruled that the nursing home chain had to release the requested records. This ruling is vital to current and potential clients of nursing homes because it showed that the public has the right to “know what was involved… and how it affects current ownership and management of these facilities.”

While this was a huge win for the public and Simmons-Ritchie, the opponents of the case can still appeal the Commonwealth Court’s opinion to the state Supreme Court, fighting for secrecy when it would bring no harm to their business.

 

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