Metro Health board agrees to create technology to share COVID-19 data with first responders in ‘limited way’

The board will contract with Motorola to develop data-sharing for individuals being transported by first reponders

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Nashville Board of Health agreed on Thursday to contract with the Motorola telecommunications corporation to develop technology to share COVID-19 patient data with first responders when they are transporting potentially positive individuals to jails, hospitals or mental health facilities.

The technology capable of sharing data on a limited basis will likely take months to develop.

Under the plan, the data will be kept in a secure database within the public health department that could be queried by emergency dispatch for specific individuals.

Under the board’s new plan, “COVID-19 test result information is privileged information to be used only by the health department in carrying out its primary task,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, a member of the board of health. Campbell said the data would only be shared if law enforcement or first responders were transporting an individual to a facility.

The Board voted last month to end the practice of routinely sharing names and addresses of positive COVID-19 individuals in Nashville with law enforcement and first responders.

The policy was implemented without the board’s knowledge by Dr. Michael Caldwell, director of the public health department. Board members said they had been “blindsided” by the plan.Dr. Michael Caldwell, director of Metro Public Health Department (Photo: LinkedIn)

Gov. Bill Lee in April encouraged sheriffs and chiefs across the state to accept data on positive COVID-19 individuals, but ended the practice in June after public backlash over patient privacy violations and the potential to deter individuals, particularly in communities of color, from accessing testing out of distrust for law enforcement.

Neither Lee nor Caldwell publicly disclosed they were sharing the data with first responders. Lee said later it was implemented to protect first responders at a time when they had limited supplies of personal protective equipment and that he ended the practice when protective supplies were more widely available.

Since the onset of the pandemic in Nashville, the Nashville Fire Department and EMS has transported 294 known COVID-positive patients, said department spokesperson Kendra Loney.

The fire department has thus far had 16 personnel who have tested positive, she said. The department has roughly 1,300 personnel, she said.

“Our NFD personnel have done an excellent job adhering to these protocols when responding to calls for service,” she said. “We are hopeful that our employees who currently have COVID-19 will have a smooth and speedy recovery. The fact our number of COVID19 cases in the department are so low is directly tied to the professional job our personnel do on every shift.”

So far, 17 Nashville police officers have tested positive for the virus, according to spokesperson Kristin Mumford. Three have recovered and returned to work, she said. The department has approximately 1450 officers.