Ga. Supreme Court to weigh in on public access to hospital information

The Georgia Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments in an open records case involving the public’s right to know about how Northside Hospital transacts business. Northside was established by a public hospital authority to operate all its assets on the authority’s behalf, but Northside contends its transactions can be kept secret because it was created by the authority as a private nonprofit.

In June, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the Georgia Press Association and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution filed a friend of the court brief asking the Court to take the case and reaffirm that private nonprofits acting as vehicles for public hospital authorities must comply with Georgia’s open government law. The foundation strongly believes that state law demands the operation of public assets be subject to public oversight.

The first court decision in the case, E. Kendrick Smith vs. Northside Hospital Inc., came last year. A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled in Northside’s favor. The case went to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court ruling in a split decision. Now the state Supreme Court will weigh in; arguments are scheduled for April.

Get a detailed history of the case from Georgia Health News, and learn about its potential impact on newsgathering by reading the AJC’s Watchdog Blog.