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Gerguises sue HMA

Physicians say hospital owner denies access to patient records

Gerguises sue HMA

Gerguises sue HMA

Two Statesboro doctors are suing a company they claim endangered patients’ health by refusing electronic access to medical records.
Drs. John and Angela  Gerguis, with South Georgia Family Medicine Associates PC, filed a civil suit Oct. 22 in Bulloch County Superior Court against Statesboro HMA Medical Group LLC, claiming the company’s refusal to make patients’ records available electronically has caused patients to be at risk because of delays and cancellations of testing, surgeries and other medical procedures, according to the suit.
Health Management Associates Inc., based in Naples, Fla., owns and operates East Georgia Regional Medical Center and 70 other hospitals in 15 states.
The Gerguises’ practice has been in a dispute with HMA since August, when the two parted ways. The Gerguises said HMA terminated their staff’s employment, while HMA said the Gerguises “submitted their resignations from Statesboro HMA Medical Group LLC.” The Gerguises’ office was closed as part of that separation, but they opened a new location about a week later in the Optim Orthopedics office at 16915 Georgia Highway 67, Suite A, just across the parking lot from the old location.
In an affidavit signed under oath, Angela  Gerguis states, “Over the course of the past two months, we have experienced difficulties due to HMA’s refusal to provide access to the electronic medical records system and/or complete copies of our patient’s records.”
She cited situations with patients where tests were canceled, procedures canceled, surgeries delayed, testing postponed, and approvals for medical procedures denied or delayed due to inability to access patient records.
Many patients are at risk because of delays, and for some, the need is urgent, she said in the suit, listing several cases where people with serious ailments have been denied complete and timely treatments because of the inaccessibility of medical records through electronic means.
Refill requests, care plan oversights, referral requests, medical equipment orders received daily are interrupted by lack of access to records, she said. Also, many patients requesting copies of records did not get them within 30 days as required by law, according to the suit.
The Gerguises have tried to negotiate with HMA but have not reached an agreement, they state in the suit. They are asking for a hearing to determine whether HMA is legally obligated to provide the electronic records in compliance with the law.
While attorneys representing Statesboro HMA, Thomerson Macchiaverna & Smith of Greenville, S.C., declined comment on the suit Friday, the Gerguises state through the civil action that HMA representatives, in a letter they received Oct. 18, told them the situation is not an emergency.
 “As a last resort, after exhausting all reasonable efforts to obtain adequate and timely access to the EMR (electronic medical records), the Gerguises are filing this complaint to enforce the Medical Records Custody Agreement,” the civil suit reads.
In a statement emailed Saturday to the Statesboro Herald, HMA asserted that it has, in fact, agreed to allow the Gerguises to patients’ electronic records.
“Statesboro HMA Medical Group, LLC has communicated on multiple occasions with the attorneys for Dr. John Gerguis and Dr. Angela Gerguis about this topic,” HMA’s statement reads. “Statesboro HMA Medical Group, LLC has agreed to allow the Gerguises to make electronic copies of any medical records they want. In addition, we continue to invite them to coordinate with our IT personnel to get electronic copies of patient medical records that are suitable for their computer system.  The only thing we have asked is that the Gerguises get the patients' permission first by signing a medical authorization and release.
 “Statesboro HMA Medical Group, LLC takes patient privacy concerns and patient medical records rights very seriously, especially the rights of patients found in the (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) law,” the statement continues. “Therefore,
Statesboro HMA Medical Group, LLC cannot allow the Gerguises to make copies of medical records for patients who have not agreed to have their records copied, nor take records out of the office for patients who have not agreed to have their records transported.”
In addition, HMA says, Statesboro HMA Medical Group “has two full time employees whose only job is to print paper copies of medical records for patients and for the Gerguises.”
According to the Gerguises’ suit, HMA denied the claim that the lack of access to electronic records is an emergency, citing that they provide paper records. The Gerguises claim paper records “are insufficient.”
In the suit, the Gerguises said HMA’s letter did not provide factual reasons they are denied access to the records. That letter, the physicians allege, was not “verified under oath nor does it comply with Superior Court rules and is inadmissible according to Georgia law.”
Anthony L. Cochran, an attorney with Chilivis, Cochran, Larkins &  Bever LLP in Atlanta, is representing the Gerguises. He declined to comment on the case Friday.
The Gerguises also filed a motion to reconsider an earlier hearing than the scheduled Nov. 25 hearing date, citing urgency in resolving the issue due to patients’ medical needs.
“Irreparable harm may well befall many of the plaintiff’s patients, to whom (they)  owe ethical obligations …,” the suit reads.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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