ABE AND HIPAA
Shortly after being named executive director of Oak Ridge Cemetery in 2011, Michael Lelys got a peek at something most folks rarely see: handwritten internment records memorializing Abraham Lincoln’s burial. It’s contained in one of two books from way back that list the dearly departed who are buried in the historic cemetery. The books, being old, were not pristine, and so the cemetery board made plans to restore them, with the money coming from the cemetery’s private foundation that helps pay for cool stuff. It’s a $30,000 project, and so Lelys figured it would be awhile before it could be accomplished. Enter Mayor Jim Langfelder, who found sufficient funds in the budget for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. The book that contains Honest Abe’s burial records should be restored by May 4, the anniversary of his burial, Lelys told the city council this week. The restored books will be kept at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and duplicates, identical in every respect, will be displayed at the cemetery (kind of like the ALPLM showing off a hat with shifting provenance that Lincoln supposedly wore). There was at least one modern-day concern as the project evolved. In olden days, the cemetery recorded causes of death – consumption, teething, hit by train and the like. “I was concerned about HIPAA regulations,” said Lelys, referring to a federal privacy law often cited by government as grounds to keep stuff secret if there’s any chance documents might contain information about someone’s health. Turns out that the law doesn’t apply to people who died 150 years ago, which will, we hope, spare restorers the chore of redacting causes of death from the historic books, which are public documents. A good thing, we think. After all, who wants to read a historic book that’s been all marked up with a black felt pen?