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WATCH: A free panel on how to obtain public health information in Pa.

by Spotlight PA Staff |

A clinical skills space in Philadelphia's health sciences building.
Jessica Griffin / Philadelphia Inquirer

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Open records battles are all too familiar for journalists covering health care in Pennsylvania. In addition to conducting countless interviews, reporters often wrestle with department officials over Right-to-Know requests.

To understand your open records rights and how members of the media tackle transparency on this issue, or the lack thereof, Spotlight PA held a free panel on the subject.

Spotlight PA’s Ed Mahon was there to share his hard-earned tips from a lengthy legal fight for medical marijuana records the Wolf administration sought to keep private.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Health took Spotlight PA to court in an effort to keep hidden information on how often cannabis is approved to treat opioid use disorder in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, an approach with little scientific backing.

A panel of Commonwealth Court judges ultimately ordered the administration to release the records, allowing Mahon to report on how anxiety became the top reason that doctors approve patients for the medical marijuana program.

This event was part of Sunshine Week, a national initiative spearheaded by the News Leaders Association to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

Our panelists included:

  • Ed Mahon, investigative reporter covering human services, Spotlight PA

  • Brett Sholtis, investigative reporter, LancasterOnline (LNP)

  • Terry Mutchler, former head of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

  • Josh McGhee, criminal justice and mental health reporter, MindSite News

5 tips to win an open records fight

  1. Remember: You can win! (Don’t be intimidated by fancy legal arguments.)

  2. Get your appeal in on time! (You have 15 business days from a denial.)

  3. Consider mediation.

  4. Check out the big index of open records cases.

  5. Ask for more time — or a chance to respond.


  1. Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law Case Law Index

  2. Right-to-Know the Right-to-Know log for an agency

  3. Pa. Office of Open Records annual reports

  4. What to know about Right to Know: How Pennsylvania journalists can use open records laws (The Lenfest Institute, 7/2022)

  5. Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition

  6. Citizens’ Guide (Office of Open Records)

  7. Right-to-Know appeal form (Office of Open Records)

WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

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