California professionals’ certifications – Are they a public record?

Now they are, but then they weren’t. The law hadn’t changed. I made a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request for an electronic record of the names and license numbers for all certified nurse assistants and home health aides, maintained by the Department of Public Health (CDPH). The request was denied as “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” That was two years ago.

I asked for the certifications because the CDPH had removed the name search feature from its online database. That was never explained. At that time, you had to search by certification number to get the name. Not useful. Obstructionist. And definitely not in keeping with CPRA or Proposition 59.

The Department of Consumer Affairs has online professional license databases — searchable by company name, licensee, location, license number and in some cases, employee — for all professions they regulate. But the CDPH name lookup was only for nursing home administrators.

A few weeks ago, my fellow PI, Jean, excitedly called me and said that the CDPH website had enabled a search by the certificate holder’s name. No announcement or explanation was given. But there it is, the California Department of Health, Certification Verification Search.

Now it seems to be a public record even though Michael Egstad, Chief (why do we use that word?) of the Certification Unit, cited the Information Practices Act (IPA) — Civil Code 1798.24 — and Government Code 6254 (c) and (k) as justification for denying records that “disclose personal information in a manner that would link the information disclosed to the individual…”. In other words, we can’t give you the names of certificate holders because then the public would…know the names of the certificate holders! News organizations spend a lot of money suing public agencies over just this sort of nonsense and to maintain open records.

Terry Franke, CalAware General Counsel, succinctly told me, “A request under the CPRA trumps the confidentiality provisions of the IPA—as declared in the IPA itself.”

And here it is:

Civil Code Section 1798.24. No agency may disclose any personal information in a manner that would link the information disclosed to the individual to whom it pertains unless the information is disclosed, as follows:
(g) Pursuant to the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1 of the Government Code).

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