HIPPA Laws Frustrate Cemetery Research

There’s been a battle going on for some time now over making the names of those buried in the Hastings Regional Center Cemetery (Adams County, Nebraska) available to the public. Nine hundred fifty-seven people are buried in the hospital cemetery. These burials occurred between 1888 to 1959, but records date only to 1909. Graves are marked, but the small gravestones only have patient numbers on them.


It seems that the Federal 1996 HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) law trumps everything on this one. Although I’m sure these dead folks won’t be purchasing or transferring their insurance anytime soon, their medical record privacy is insured. In this case, we don’t even know who the folks are. Now that’s private.

The Adams County Historical Society filed a lawsuit in the Summer of 2007 attempting to get the records made public. The Historical Society lost. District Judge Terri Harder cited HIPAA almost exclusively in her ruling. She said the law establishes a minimum level of protection for “individually identifiable health information” based on past, present or future physical or mental health condition. (I’d say that their physical condition at the moment is poor, at the very least.)

The historical society appealed the ruling, and now the decision lies with the Nebraska Supreme Court. Several media organizations have recently filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting The Adams County Historical Society lawsuit.

The society rightfully argues that the patients should not be forgotten and there is no evidence that they wanted their bodies buried in unmarked graves. I’m in full agreement.

For more information, see: “HIPAA bars release of hospital burial records, Neb. judge rules,” in the Feb. 18, 2008 post at firstamendmentcenter.org.


“Media groups want Neb. cemetery records released”, an AP article in the January 8, 2009 Charleston Gazette.

One thought on “HIPPA Laws Frustrate Cemetery Research

  1. Hippa Laws protect your medical information. Why would this be a factor? The only thing being asked is a name be given with the patient number for the headstones. The birth and death records are not relevant. This can be found through public records and historical documents. They just want names for the stones. These people need to be remembered. If there is any leak of health information then they need to worry about their staff. If they worry about a leak then they need a new staff. These are people not numbers. This is how they should be remembered…People not numbers….

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