Tippecanoe County Health Department officials Friday tried to bar reporters from the public building where the county’s needle exchange had begun operating.
Reporters were able to talk with public health nurse Khala Hochstedler until a few minutes before 1 p.m. Friday, when she claimed they had to leave the building.
But because Tippecanoe County decided to start its program over the objections of Lafayette and West Lafayette officials, it had to be in a county-owned space – one that, by definition, is open to the public.
Health Department Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Ryan Tennessen spoke to the health department’s lawyers, who tried to fall back on state law.
“Probably in the bill related to this program, it specifically talks about media interaction,” he says.
However, neither the original legislation from 2015 nor the 2017 addendum to the law says anything about media access. Tennessen also claimed the presence of reporters would dissuade those seeking clean needles.
“It’s a trust piece, then," he says. "[people might think] Oh, crap, media’s here on site. I don’t feel comfortable entering and participating in this program if I’ve got media sitting right here.”
However, WBAA’s reporters had been stationed inside the building – so they weren’t visible to program participants until those people walked inside. And as journalists sat in an adjacent room to Hochstedler’s desk, two people did come in asking about the program.