Patients Can’t Get Records from Shuttered Hospital

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An Action 16 investigation into the fallout from the recent shut down of St. Catherine Medical Center in Schuylkill County reveals problems for former patients.

Many cannot get their own medical records because the records are locked up inside the shut down hospital

A federal judge forced St. Catherine Medical Center in Fountain Springs into bankruptcy liquidation in April and that caused the hospital to shut down and lock its doors.

By doing that, the hospital also locked up information that doctors and patients really need.

Breast cancer survivor Cheryl Varndell said the time spent caring for her infant granddaughter, Bianca, kept her calm at her home in Gordon during a two-week period in April when she feared her cancer had returned.

Her doctor in Pottsville discovered a lump in her breast during a routine exam and wanted to see her recent mammogram.

"And I'm thinking to myself, now you're thinking all the bad things that you could possible be thinking," said Varndell.

She had three years of mammograms and other tests on file at St. Catherine Medical Center in Fountain Springs.

When she tried to get these records, the hospital had just shut down so she had to get an extra costly new round of mammograms and other tests.

"It's like starting all over again, just because you can't get your records," said Varndell.  "It`s insane."

Doctor said hundreds of their patients have records locked up inside the shuttered hospital. The records include X-rays, blood work, even information that shows them what medication their patients are allergic to.

"There is the potential that one of those x-rays, one of those reports, even a piece of laboratory work, might hold something that might impact, and possibly put in jeopardy a patient`s life," said Dr. John Stefovic of Ashland.

He added physicians treating former St. Catherine patients are ordering extra, expensive tests and treatment because they just don't have a good read on these people's medical histories. Stefovic said some of these tests might be avoidable if doctors could get the records that are locked up in St. Catherine.

The Ashland doctor contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the hospital bankruptcy trustee to warn them of the trouble.

"And they've all been sympathetic to the situation," said Dr. Stefovic, " ut they don't have an answer as to what they could do about this."

Cheryl Varndell's ordeal ended with good news. The lump doctors found was not cancerous.

If her doctor could have seen the mammograms stored in St. Catherine's records room, Varndell said, her most recent mammogram would have been unnecessary.

"And all my anxiety and 'Where do I go from here now if this is cancer?' could have been totally eliminated," she added.

So what happens to the records?

According to state law, the hospital was supposed to have a plan in place for patients as part of the process of shutting down.

It didn't.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said it is up to the bankruptcy trustee to do something.

The court-appointed trustee, William Schwab of Lehighton, did not return our calls.

In the meantime, people's critical medical records remain locked up.