Grand Rapids HIV criminal case produces rare statewide notification
Kent County announced in late December that it had issued a statewide notice to other health departments in Michigan regarding the 51-year-old Comstock Park man who allegedly attempted to infect “hundreds” of people with HIV. But just how that notice was issued, where, and what the guidelines for such a notice are was an unknown quantity for most Michigan citizens.
The American Independent asked the Michigan Department of Health officials to explain the Michigan Health Alert Network operations and just how many times that system had been used in relation to HIV notifications between Dec. 27, 2010, and Dec. 27, 2011, when the Kent County Health Department sent its alert.
The system is explained on the state website:
The Michigan Health Alert Network (MIHAN) is a secure web-based notification system created by the State of Michigan to alert key personnel of conditions that could adversely impact the health and safety of Michigan’s citizens. The system also provides situational awareness about important but non-emergency health-related information.
Angela Minicuci, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Community Health, which oversees the secure system, said in the last year the system posted 803 internal alerts.
Here’s how Minicuci broke out the categories of topics in MIHAN over the last year:
“In general, subjects include: hospital resource status reports, food and drug related issues and recall notices, systems test & exercise related messages (an estimated 90% of all messages), announcements of guideline releases and requests for the submission of general lab sample testing, routine announcements of public health specific report updates, occasional reports of unusual accidents (plane crash) and other incidents (temporary closures effecting medical responses), reports of suspicious activities related to hospitals by unidentified individuals, notifications and updates related to general communicable disease or food borne outbreaks within the state, notification of the emergency status for various health and emergency management agencies.”
And how many times was that system used in the previous year to notify health officials across the state about an HIV situation? Once. On Dec. 27, 2011, the Kent County Health Department issued the following message to the system:
Subject: Failure to Disclose HIV Status
The Kent County Health Department is currently working Grand Rapids Police, investigating claims made by an HIV-positive man that he has been sexually active and sharing intravenous drugs without disclosing his status. Police say the suspect [name and DOB removed] said that he was intentionally trying to spread the disease to as many people as possible, and that hundreds of people may have been exposed to the virus. [The suspect] is being held in the Kent County Jail. Criminal charges have been filed against [name removed] for AIDS — Sexual Penetration with Uninformed Partner (Failing to disclose HIV status) in Grand Rapids District Court. The Kent County Health Department is aggressively investigating the allegations, tracking down potential victims and encouraging HIV testing for any individuals who believe they may have been exposed to the suspect. Contact [name removed] at the Kent County Health Department at 616-632-7172 [email address removed] for more information or to share any known contacts with [name removed].
This notification was noted by KCHD officials in subsequent media reports. Those reports indicated the suspect may have had contact with others outside Kent County, something not indicated specifically in this alert. The press release and subsequent media reports generated by it have been criticized by HIV advocates as “sensationalist.”
Photo: Map of Michigan’s emergency preparedness regions on the Michigan Health Alert Network (source: MDCH website)