Settlement Ends Court Fight Over Patient Safety Ordinance

Allen County Board of Commissioners Seal

News release from the Allen County Board of Commissioners:

Settlement Ends Court Fight Over Patient Safety Ordinance
Most provisions of County ordinance to remain in place

(February 18, 2011) – A settlement reached in a federal lawsuit challenging Allen County’s Patient Safety Ordinance will allow enforcement of the ordinance to move forward while maintaining all of its central requirements aimed at protecting patients who undergo surgeries performed by itinerant physicians.

At its legislative session today, the Board of Commissioners approved the settlement reached between its attorneys and representatives of the plaintiff, Dr. Ulrich G. Klopfer. The settlement will become effective once it is approved by the court.

Among provisions of the ordinance which will remain in place:

[list type=”black”]
[li]The itinerant medical provider’s association with a local physician to facilitate peer monitoring of patient safety.[/li]
[li]Providing patients with emergency contact info so they have a local physician to call to ensure adequate follow-up care.[/li]
[li]The sharing of that information with local emergency rooms to protect patients brought in for care and the ability of the County to investigate violations.[/li]
[/list]

The only provisions of the ordinance deleted relate to the inspection of a single document containing the patient’s signature. Even though the ordinance already guaranteed redaction to protect confidentiality of that document, the County will still be able to pursue investigations
without that inspection provision.

As part of the settlement, the Commissioners agreed to pay a small portion of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees totaling $30,000.

“Unfortunately, any small victory for the plaintiff allows some recovery of attorney’s fees,” said Commissioner Nelson Peters. “However, nearly the entire ordinance was upheld under the Indiana Home Rule Act, thus giving us the ability to help protect Allen County patients.”

In September 2008, the Board of Commissioners began to consider a patient safety ordinance, spurred by concern from local physicians that doctors from out of town were placing patients at risk by performing procedures without backup coverage. The Commissioners unanimously
adopted the ordinance in April 2010 and amended it in June.

Dr. Klopfer, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a lawsuit last May challenging the ordinance. Dr. Klopfer, who owns and operates Fort Wayne Women’s Health, argued that the ordinance would prevent him from performing abortions because he couldn’t find a doctor in the area who was willing to associate with him for the purpose of being his designated physician.

On June 11, the Commissioners voted to retain the Alliance Defense Fund as legal counsel for the lawsuit at no cost to taxpayers.

On August 11, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana issued a preliminary injunction against some aspects of the ordinance involving health department inspections, but allowed most of the ordinance’s provisions to go into effect while the litigation continued.

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