Posts misrepresent East Palestine medical device program
CLAIM: Officials in East Palestine, Ohio, gave digital IDs to residents to track their long-term health problems as part of an emergency response pilot program ahead of the Feb. 3 train derailment in the town.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The East Palestine Fire Department is offering to distribute devices that would allow medical providers to quickly access patients’ medical information, such as medication allergies, through a QR code. The devices would not track people’s vitals and have not yet been distributed, the chief of the East Palestine Fire Department told The Associated Press. The department is still waiting to receive the devices.
THE FACTS: As misinformation continues to spread online regarding the Feb. 3 freight train derailment in East Palestine, social media users are now claiming that officials in the village distributed suspicious devices to residents that track their long-term health issues before the incident.
One Instagram post, which has garnered more than 2,000 likes since it was posted Friday, featured video from a months old news segment about the program as well as the text, “If it doesn’t get WEIRDER than this!” The text continues, “3 months ago East Palestine, OH was at the center of a pilot program to respond to EMERGENCY situations,” before claiming, “They gave digital ID’s FOR FREE to residents to track long term health problems like ‘difficulty breathing.’”
Similar claims also spread on other social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter.
The posts are misleading. The devices have not yet been distributed to any East Palestine residents, nor do they track people’s long-term health problems or physical location, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith A. Drabick told the AP.
The devices, called MyID, would hold identification and medical information like medication allergies, similar to metal medical ID bracelets. East Palestine has a large population of elderly residents, Drabick noted.
“There are zero components that measure your vitals,” Drabick wrote in an email to the AP on Sunday. “This device is simply made for someone who could not give medical information to a healthcare provider, in the instance that the patient was unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate.”
“To date, as of today, there have not been any devices given out to the community,” he added.
The devices could come in the form of a bracelet, necklace, key chain, wallet card or sticker inside of a helmet, Drabick wrote. Emergency responders can access the information by scanning the QR code on the device with a cellphone camera.
The department held its last informational event about the devices Jan. 29, and 60 people have asked to receive a device, according to Drabick. As of Monday, the department has still not received the devices from the manufacturer.
Aaron Treanor, CEO of the MyID company, said in a phone interview Monday that his company has worked with first responders in numerous states, including Florida and California. He confirmed that the products lack tracking technology.
“It’s just misinformation,” he said of the online claims.
Drabick wrote that he learned of the MyID devices when he worked in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A local woman had stopped by the fire station to inform the staff of the device. She had obtained one for her son who had a history of seizures and showed the crew how it worked, he wrote.
“Once the QR code was scanned, it produced a profile of the patient (woman’s son). The only thing it displays is whatever information the patient decides to put in it,” Drabick wrote. “For this particular patient, it had name, date of birth, emergency contacts, and important medical information that may be pertinent to patient care, especially allergies to medications that could be given in the ambulance.”
The October news segment in the widely circulating Instagram post discussed the department’s plans to distribute the devices, and the same news outlet produced another segment in February debunking the online conspiracy theories concerning the program.
The train derailment in East Palestine prompted officials to intentionally release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from rail cars to avoid the dangers of an uncontrolled explosion, the AP reported. The crew operating the train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks, and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong, federal investigators said Thursday. The incident has morphed into a heated political controversy.
This story was updated to include comment from the CEO of MyID.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.