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Iowa Department of Public Health sued over request for Test Iowa records

A now-closed Test Iowa location in Cedar Rapids. (Iowa's News Now){p}{/p}
A now-closed Test Iowa location in Cedar Rapids. (Iowa's News Now)

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A Utah-based attorney is suing the Iowa Department of Public Health and its spokesperson, Sarah Ekstrand, over failing to provide records on the state's COVID-19 testing program, court records show.

Suzette Rasmussen of Draper, Utah filed the lawsuit in Polk County District Court July 29th.

In her lawsuit, Rasmussen claims that Ekstrand communicated with her about the public records request, sent around March 11, but never provided the requested documents.

The lawsuit stems from a $26 million no-bid contract the State of Iowa awarded to Utah companies Nomi Health, Domo, Inc., Qualtrics, and Co-Diagnostics. That contract, awarded in April 2020, allowed the companies to run the Test Iowa program.

Rasmussen's lawsuit claims the State of Iowa did not allow competitive bidding for the Test Iowa Contract.

Rasmussen says she sent a public records request to Sarah Ekstrand in March 2021, requesting copies of all correspondence between IDPH, including Interim Director Kelly Garcia, and the Iowa Governor’s Office, Utah state officials, Nebraska state officials, and Tennessee state officials regarding the Test Iowa Contract.

The lawsuit says Ekstrand emailed Rasmussen on April 14, saying the records would be provided within five days.

Rasmussen claims she sent an email on May 26, clarifying her request to include “IDPH communications regarding NOMI Health contract from March 20, 2020 to March 11, 2021.”

Two days later on May 28, Rasmussen sent another email confirming this additional request.

Rasmussen claims she followed up several times to check on her request, including emails in June and July.

The lawsuit claims:

On July 20, 2021, Defendant Ekstrand indicated the Records were in final review and she anticipated being able to release them soon.

Rasmussen claims IDPH and Ekstrand have violated Iowa code by failing to provide these public records. She's asking a judge to order IDPH to provide the documents and to pay any costs or attorneys' fees.

When asked why she was making the request, Rasmussen told Iowa's News Now it was on behalf of a client, providing a link to a Salt Lake Tribune story.

"We've used record-access procedures in Iowa to gather information about the State's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its contracts and relationships with testing providers and tech partners," she said via email.

She says she can't speculate as to why her request wasn't filled, but says, "[...] the mere fact that they haven't been provided signals something pretty significant."

Iowa's News Now reached out to Ekstrand for comment and was told, "The agency does not comment on pending litigation."

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According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Rasmussen is also suing the Utah Department of Health, citing delays in public records requests for documents related to the state's pandemic response.

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