July 25, 2008

Patient Files Found in Folkston Trash at a Closed Physicians’ Office Yields a Box of Abandoned Medical Records


FOLKSTON - Residents combing through trash left at a closed physicians' office under renovation found a box of medical records this week.

The patient files were in a pile of old framed pictures, lamps and furniture in front of the building Monday, Folkston Police Chief Wesley Green said Thursday. State laws lay out clear guidelines for safeguarding medical records and notifying patients if physicians close their practices, officials said.

The records were apparently left in the office when physicians closed their practices there several years ago.

The unidentified woman who discovered the records turned them over to Capt. Kenny Jones, a deputy with the Charlton County Sheriff's Office, on Tuesday.

Jones said several doctors had offices in the building in the past and he didn't look at the records to determine whose office they came from. He delivered them to Charlton Memorial Hospital and asked officials there to determine what should be done with them.

Interim hospital administrator Dee McKrow, said the 3-foot- square cardboard box was "heaping full" of records.

"We were asked to hold these records, even though they have nothing to do with the hospital," she said.

McKrow said she plans to look at the records in the coming days and consult with other hospital administrators to determine what to do with them.

"Our role is to be a good steward and have them taken care of properly," she said.

The recommendation will determine whether the records will be returned to the patients or shredded, she said.

According to state law, physicians planning to retire or sell their practices must notify patients at their last known addresses and give them the choice of picking up their records or sending them to a doctor of the patient's choice.

Physicians are also required to notify patients about the date of retirement or sale of their medical practice by advertising in a local newspaper. They are also required to place a sign in a conspicuous location in the office a minimum of 30 days before retiring.

Jim McNatt, medical director of the state Medical Examiner's Board, said physicians are obligated to maintain and protect all records in their office. He said his office will investigate if someone files a complaint.

"Just because he's leaving, he's still responsible," McNatt said. "Those charts should not have been left in that office, advertisement or no advertisement."[email protected], (912) 729-3672

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