Film critical of Phoebe shown in Albany - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Film critical of Phoebe shown in Albany

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The national health care debate rages on.  Years before stories about the uninsured made daily national headlines, it was big news in Albany. Now a new documentary takes a look at the plight of the uninsured and specifically how Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital deals with those patients. 

"Do No Harm" also examines the infamous Phoebe Factoids and how Phoebe responded to those faxes that criticized the hospital's financial practices and management. Do No Harm's director says she was intrigued by the story.  A Phoebe representative says the film doesn't tell the whole truth.

The documentary "Do No Harm" shines a spotlight on Albany with an Albany doctor at the center of it all. "I'm excited about it. I think the turnout is great," said Dr. John Bagnato.

Complete with popcorn and a big screen, Merry Acres was transformed into a movie theater for the film's debut in Albany Tuesday night. Former Phoebe surgeon Dr. John Bagnato watched as it played but never thought something known as the Phoebe Factoids would lead to this.

"Of course not," said Bagnato, "the fact that we're here at a documentary has more to do with the Phoebe response to the Factoids than anything we ever said or did."

What was done landed both Bagnato and his office manager Charles Rehberg in jail, indicted for making harassing phone calls after it was revealed they sent the Factoid's which were faxes critical of Phoebe. "What I learned during the litigation that we were going through at the time is that non-profit hospitals were profiteering," said Bagnato.

That so-called profiteering and allegations of unethical practices at Phoebe caught the attention of filmmaker Rebecca Schanberg. "Pretty much what it was is that uninsured people were being charged a master charge rate which is the highest rate that you can be charged in a hospital and everyone else was being charged less," said Schamberg.

The film, funded by private foundations, attempts to look into those allegations and the plight of uninsured patients nationwide but Phoebe leaders aren't pleased with the picture it paints.

"It paints Phoebe Putney on a national level in a very unfavorable light and we don't think we deserve that," said Dr. Doug Patten with Phoebe.

Patten says "Do No Harm" distorts the truth. "Everyone gets charged the same," said Patten, "payers pay differently."

One thing Patten does agree with--hospitals nationwide need to continue improving treatment of the uninsured. "In the last five years, we've looked carefully at how we manage the payment structure for people who have no health insurance and we feel we've improved how that's handled," said Patten.

"You know I would love to say I think Phoebe's changed but no they haven't," said Bagnato.

Bagnato says despite it all, if he had to do it all over again he would. Both the filmmaker and Phoebe say they want viewers of "Do No Harm" to make their own judgements.

The allegations against Phoebe prompted a look into the matter by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. He asked Phoebe and some other large non-profit hospitals to answer questions about their practices. You can find a link to Phoebe's responses and their financial audits by visiting www.phoebeputney.com .  Click on the link on the left side of the page that says "Phoebe Wants You To Know."

The film will be shown in Atlanta Wednesday night. Filmmakers are planning other screenings nationwide and hope to get it shown on PBS.

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