Nampa woman wins open government award for seeking mental-health records

A Nampa woman who pressured the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to release information about the state’s Medicaid mental health care program has been named the recipient of the 2015 Max Dalton Open Government Award sponsored by the Idaho Newspaper Foundation.

Heidi Knittel and mental health advocate Liza Long filed a public records request with the state to release data on the number and types of mental health cases since a contract was issued in 2013 to Optum Idaho, a private company.

The public records request was denied, but the attention drawn to the matter by Knittel and media reports led to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee voting in March to a review of Optum’s contract by Office of Performance Evaluation.

“Heidi used the power given to all citizens by the Idaho Public Records Law to request records that she believes should be disclosed to the public, which paid for them,” Idaho News Foundation Executive Director Tom Grote of McCall said in a news release.

“She did not take no for an answer and the result is a state investigation into the questions she raised,” Grote said.

Knittel, who runs a case management program at STARR Family Behavioral Health in Boise, will receive $1,000 and an art plate for her award.

The Max Dalton Open Government Award has been given each year since 1999 to a citizen or group judged to be an outspoken advocate of openness in either public records or public meetings on the state or local level.