Georgia Watch files amicus brief in hospital Open Records Act case

ATLANTA, GA – September 20, 2016 – Georgia Watch filed an amicus brief today in support of the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Smith v. Northside, a case pending before the Georgia Supreme Court.  At issue is whether certain documents related to Northside’s acquisition of four privately-owned physician practices should be available to the public under the Georgia Open Records Act. Georgia Watch was represented in this matter by pro bono counsel, Sadie Craig, of Akerman LLP.

Northside Hospital is a private nonprofit organization operating under a lease agreement with the Fulton County Hospital Authority.  There are more than 80 hospital authorities in Georgia that are charged with providing for the healthcare needs of their communities, and many of these authorities lease their hospitals to private nonprofit organizations.

“Georgia citizens have enjoyed access and transparency with regard to nonprofit organizations in lease agreements with hospital authorities for more than 20 years.  This case threatens to erode that access,” says Beth Stephens, Health Access Program Director for Georgia Watch.  “The outcome in this case also has broader implications for the multitude of private companies conducting public business in similar contract arrangements.”

The Georgia Open Records Act ensures that Georgia citizens have access to information regarding the activities and decisions of state agencies; this includes entities contracted to help carry out the duties of those agencies. This transparency helps advocates, like Georgia Watch, and individual consumers hold state agencies and public hospitals accountable.  Access to public records permits crucial oversight to foster dialogue and, where necessary, change.  “This case is a matter of great concern and importance for citizens of Georgia,” says Stephens.

Founded in 2002, Georgia Watch is a nonprofit statewide consumer advocacy organization working to empower and protect Georgia consumers through education, advocacy and policy development. Georgia Watch focuses on safeguarding consumer protections in personal finance, ensuring lower utility bills and cleaner energy, defending the availability of quality affordable healthcare, protecting the right to trial by jury, and promoting access to the courts.

Read the full brief here