Northside Hospital in Sandy Springs.
County commissioners created the Fulton County Hospital Authority in 1966 to provide health care throughout the county, Peterson noted. To that end, the authority opened Northside Hospital, which it operated for the next 25 years.
In 1991, however, the authority restructured that operation with a long-term lease of the hospital to be run by a private, nonprofit corporation — Northside Hospital Inc.
Now, the corporation argues that it doesn’t do anything on behalf of the county agency, and for this reason its records of health-care-related acquisitions aren’t subject to public inspection, the ruling said.
If the corporation’s “aggressive position were wholly correct, it may well cast serious doubt on the legality of the whole arrangement between the corporation and the agency,” Peterson wrote.
Richard Griffiths, board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said he was thrilled with the decision.
“Transparency is the best way to maintain accountability to the taxpayers who funded Northside and justifiably own it,” said Griffiths, former CNN vice president. “Government agencies can’t spin off private entities so they can avoid public records scrutiny. The key, big win is that Northside Hospital is a huge part of Fulton County and has to be open about its operations.”
Lee Echols, the hospital’s vice president of marketing, had a different take on the court’s decision.
“We are grateful that the Georgia Supreme Court has decisively rejected (Smith’s) claim that virtually every Northside Hospital document is a public record,” he said.
You can donate your time to help newborns around Atlanta. Baby Buddies has a long waiting list, but it still takes volunteers. Volunteers read to premature babies and help strengthen their muscles. Northside Hospital also takes volunteers to care for infants. If you can't help because of the waiting list, there are other opportunities around Atlanta.
“The single goal of Mr. Smith has been to gain access, on behalf of a Northside Hospital competitor, to confidential business information that is clearly protected from disclosure,” Echols said. He added the hospital “looks forward to prevailing” as the case moves forward.
Atlanta lawyer Peter Canfield, who represents Smith, expressed confidence the hospital will not be able to keep its acquisition records under wraps.
In the lower courts, the hospital argued that none of its records were subject to disclosure, Canfield said. “That argument has now been emphatically rejected by the Supreme Court.”