Monday, October 19, 2009


"I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant.... I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them."

From the Greek Hippocratic Oath, circa 4th century B.C.E.

On October 13th I had the pleasure of attending the Albany premiere of the documentary movie, Do No Harm, the story of Dr. John Bagnato and Charles Rehberg and their excellent adventures in health care reform. For those who are new to Albany or who have been living in a cave the last six years, those gentlemen were the (then) anonymous authors of the famous Phoebe Factoids faxes back in 2003 The documentary recounted, much of it in the words of Bagnato and Rehberg, how they initially discovered that Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's tax returns and other financial filings could be found at an internet website, . During their investigation they found that Phoebe's finances were nothing short of astonishing, as it had managed to amass over two hundred million dollars in cash in offshore banks in the Cayman Islands. In a series of anonymous faxes they sent information embarrassing to Phoebe's bigwigs to numerous local notables, including Congressman Sanford Bishop, and to fax machines in Phoebe itself. [I've never understood why they felt the need to be anonymous, but that's the least of this story.]

For their trouble they were targeted by then District Attorney Ken Hodges, a descendent of the hospital's founders and the recipient of thousands of dollars in campaign donations by top executives at the hospital. Hodges used bogus grand jury subpoenas (there was no grand jury meeting) served on BellSouth to discover who sent the faxes- then he accepted thousands of dollars from Phoebe and turned the faxes over to Phoebe's lawyers. Later the intrepid duo were arrested and booked on false charges (readers should watch the documentary, available on DVD, to get the full story on the prosecution) and each retained renowned criminal defense attorneys featured in the documentary- Bobby Lee Cook of Summerville, Georgia and J. Converse Bright of Valdosta.

At one time Dr. Bagnato was the chief of surgery at Phoebe and Rehberg, a certified public accountant, was the manager of Bagnato's medical practice. Why these two gentlemen, both family men with solid roots in the community, decided to take on the local medical behemoth, is explained succinctly by Rehberg and Bagnato in the film- they refused to stand by and do nothing while those who were supposed to be served by the local (formerly) public hospital were ripped off and shut out at every turn. Georgia Watch's Hospital Accountability Project, which also sponsored the movie premiere, reported that Phoebe was overcharging its patients by hundreds of millions and marking up prices over 200 percent. In 2007 Phoebe charged patients over $700 million ($752,273,508) while their actual costs of services totaled less than half that amount- $357,452,957.

Rehberg and Bagnato discovered that Phoebe's actions were the opposite of its slogan, "The Hospital with a Heart," as it repeatedly sued patients whose illnesses cost them their jobs and their assets they needed to pay for medical care. They also uncovered some unseemly practices, such as business expenses for liquor and cigars from one London trip by its top executives and hundreds of thousands of dollars for corporate jet rentals (Johnny Cochran's jet!) to fly top honchos to the Cayman Islands, presumably to visit the $200 million they had stashed in Cayman banks to make sure their money didn't get lonely. Not to mention hundreds of thousands to hire ex-FBI agents out of Phoenix to harass and intimidate Rehberg, Bagnato, and their wives and children.

As for the absurd criminal prosecutions, after some long and agonizing legal proceedings, in July of 2007 visiting Superior Court Judge Harry Jay Altman dismissed all of the criminal charges prior to trial. Here's an excerpt from an Albany Journal column I wrote in December of 2005:

* The Special Prosecutor, Houston Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kelley R. Burke, responded to Maverick Attorney Ralph Scoccimaro s passionate defense of his client with some inflammatory speech of his own- comparing the Phoebe Factoids to:

"... go[ing] onto someone else s property and burning a cross under the guise of free speech which is tantamount to what these defendants are claiming."

Well, no. Burning a cross on someone s lawn isn t remotely comparable to faxing a document to a Congressman which reveals the sleazy machinations of a public hospital that has managed to stash away over $200 million in cash, much of it from government funded Medicaid and Medicare payments.

* Finally, District Attorney Ken Hodges has some splaining to do, as Ricky used to say to Lucy. Why did he use a 2003 grand jury to subpoena BellSouth's phone records to unearth Bagnato and Rehberg as the source of the faxes? Why did he turn Bagnato and Rehberg s phone records over to Phoebe s lawyer, but not present a criminal case to that grand jury or any of the half dozen grand juries that met after that? Why did he wait over a year and a half to request a special prosecutor? Was his decision to request a special prosecutor affected by the avalanche of bad publicity from the May 9, 2005, Atlanta Journal-Constitution front page expose of his giving grand jury documents to campaign contributors at Phoebe?

After the October 2009 movie premier the director, Rebecca Shanberg, and Dr. Bagnato appeared at a panel discussion. Although this case may now seem almost like ancient history, it is still topical, as Rehberg has a federal lawsuit pending against Ken Hodges, and Hodges, who left Phoebe, excuse me, the DA's office to join the Baudino Law Group (which collects millions annually in legal fees from.... wait for it..... Phoebe Putney!) is running for Attorney General of Georgia.


Anonymous DanT said...

Any updates on the Hodges situation, aside from the Andrew Young endorsement? I'm interested in the attorney general primary race between Ken Hodges and Teilhet and the regular media just isn't cutting it with their coverage.

7:39 PM  
Blogger James Finkelstein (Ga.) said...

Nothing new, other than Ken has had some wondrous things happen on his Wikipedia page over the last few months. I didn't know you could whitewash a career so beautifully. Feel free to respond to the Wikipedia entry and post your information. I do note that Leah Sears' endorsement seems to have disappeared (she was the former Chief Justice of the Ga. Supreme Court).

8:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home