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The Independent Film Series continues with documentary on health care

POSTED: February 17, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/For The Times

The hard-hitting documentary "Do No Harm" will be screened tonight at the Smithgall Arts Center in Gainesville.

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Shining a light on the darker side of hospitals, the hard-hitting documentary "Do No Harm" will be screened tonight at the Smithgall Arts Center in Gainesville.

"The film is about two men who basically take on their local hospital in a community that thinks (the) local hospital is always right," director Rebecca Schanberg said. "The hospital owns the town, basically, by being a main employer."

The film follows a pair of Georgia professionals in the medical industry in their role as whistleblowers of the frightening financial side of how a hospital operates.

These two men are John Bagnato, a surgeon who now owns his own practice in Albany, and Charles A. Rehberg, an accountant who has received the highest certifications in health care finance.

"I think they're two extremely brave whistleblowers with incredible integrity," Schanberg said.

Bagnato and Rehberg investigated and exposed Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany for billing practices they saw as unethical toward patients with little or no health insurance.

"They were overcharging uninsured people, bankrupting them and basically ruining their lives," Schanberg said.

She got involved in making the documentary in 2005 when a friend, who was working on a series of class action lawsuits that Bagnato and Rehberg filed against 37 health care systems in 26 states, told her all about what was happening in health care finance across the country.

"We were going to do a story about the lawsuits," Schanberg said, "then we realized the story was really about John and Charles," who went through lengthy court battles with local authorities when charges were brought up against them after they went public with their findings at Phoebe.

The hardest part about bringing light to a dark situation like this is that many people don't know what is actually happening in those darker corners of the country.

"Most people don't believe this is happening, including many doctors." Schanberg said, "They just don't know about it."

After watching the film, she said, "People are sort of blown away and have a lot of respect for John and Charles. ... They don't know what to do."

Some thought maybe the recent national health care legislation would help address some of the problems brought up in the film, but Schanberg contends it was just insurance reform and doesn't change the mechanisms behind how money flows through hospitals.

"You can't have real reform until you have financial reform," said Schanberg.

The screening at 7:30 tonight is part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, a collaboration between the Arts Council, Gainesville State College, and South Arts. A reception and Q&A with the film's producer, Susanne Suffrebin, will follow the screening.

Schanberg hopes that people will come see "Do No Harm" tonight in the Smithgall Arts Center in Gainesville because people "don't know about it, but they should."

 

 



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