The Georgia Supreme Court has agreed to step into a battle over the public's right to know about Northside Hospital's business transactions.
The court said Thursday that it would hear an open records case involving attorney E. Kendrick Smith's attempt to obtain records from Northside. Smith has argued the records are subject to disclosure under the Georgia Open Records Act. The matter has been closely watched by Georgia news media outlets and healthcare systems across the state.
Northside has been on the winning side of the court battle so far, which has worried news organization that for years have used the Open Records Act to obtain documents from non-profit health care systems that operate hospitals owned by the public. Northside Hospital in Atlanta is a public facility owned by a hospital authority. It is operated by a non-profit organization.
Smith, the attorney seeking the records, requested documents that would reveal the details of Northside’s acquisition of four physician practices. The AJC in 2013 wrote about patients who faced higher bills after the hospital’s acquisition of two of these practices.
Northside contends that Smith is working on behalf of a competitor and the records he seeks are not subject to disclosure.
The AJC’s Watchdog blog has followed the case with interest because Northside has turned down AJC requests for documents even though other hospitals routinely comply with similar requests. Here is a copy of Northside's response to a records request from the AJC: Northside’s Letter to AJC
Several new media organizations — and even one hospital authority — filed briefs this summer asking the Supreme Court to get involved. CLICK HERE to read the Watchdog Blog's previous coverage of the briefs filed in the case.
The Georgia Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments in the case in April.