Federal Court Ruling Could Usher In New Statewide "Patient Safety" Law: Commissioner Peters

By Scott Sarvay
By Jeff Neumeyer

August 13, 2010 Updated Aug 13, 2010 at 5:32 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- Is the ball now in the Indiana State Legislature's court regarding Allen County's patient safety ordinance?

An Allen County commissioner believes a federal judge's ruling could lead to a new state law regulating certain physicians.

It's one public official's interpretation, but language in the ruling seems to leave the door open for the legislature to get into the picture.

Earlier this year, the county commissioners approved a patient safety ordinance, telling out of town doctors performing invasive procedures like Liposuction or Lasik surgery, that they have to provide local hospitals with emergency contact information and line up a backup doctor in case of patient complications.

Dr. George Klopfer, who comes here to perform abortions, filed suit to block enforcement, arguing in part, that the county had stepped outside its bounds of authority.

In a ruling publicized Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Miller wrote, “In short, what isn’t forbidden is permitted under the Home Rule Act. There is no statutory prohibition preventing Allen County from enacting additional reasonable regulations that are logically consistent with state regulations…If there is any remaining doubt here, it is to be resolved in favor of the ordinance's validity."

County Commissioner Nelson Peters thinks the decision may force the hand of state lawmakers.

Nelson Peters/(R) Allen County Commissioner: " What our attorneys have suggested at this point is that it's now okay for every county in Indiana to create similar legislation at the county level and I think the General Assembly will want to ensure that they've got everybody under the same umbrella and they've got separate counties singing off the same hymn sheet."

We did not receive return calls from the ACLU of Indiana, seeking comment.

Judge Miller did grant a preliminary injunction against the release of certain patient medical information under the ordinance, based on privacy rights from the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

No word on whether either side will appeal this week’s ruling.

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