Mental Health Confidentiality Act violated in suits against Petrovich, sisters say

By Kelly Holleran | Jan 26, 2010

Two girls say personal, humiliating information was wrongfully revealed about them during multiple trials of a doctor accused of using cocaine.

Sisters Megan and Emily Fuhler filed a lawsuit Jan. 19 in Madison County Circuit Court against Dr. John Petrovich, Gateway Regional Medical Center, Community Health Systems, Heartland Clinic, Behr, McCarter and Potter and Richard Behr.

The Fuhlers claim their mother, Jan Fuhler, worked for Petrovich from 1993 until 2004. During the time of her employment with Petrovich, Jan Fuhler says she noticed him using cocaine and reported it to Petrovich's bosses at Gateway Regional Medical Center.

"Despite receiving notice of Dr. Petrovich's cocaine use, Gateway Regional Medical Center continued to permit Dr. Petrovich to perform surgical procedures on patients until after Dr. Petrovich was arrested on cocaine-related charges," the suit states.

"In October 2005, Dr. Petrovich pleaded guilty to the felony of using his medical license to obtain scheduled drugs for his own use and was sentenced to five years probation, fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution," the complaint states.

Soon afterward, Petrovich and Gateway Regional Medical Center became defendants in at least seven lawsuits. In one of the lawsuits filed against Gateway Regional Medical Center, Jan Fuhler acted as plaintiff, alleging the center wrongfully terminated her from employment because she reported Petrovich's cocaine use.

During trial, Petrovich and Gateway Regional Medical Center -- along with remaining defendants Community Health Systems, Heartland Clinic, Behr, McCarter and Potter and Richard Behr – issued a subpoena in which they requested Jan Fuhler's psychiatrist release all records about her client.

"The records which were transferred to the hired expert witness included references to the plaintiffs herein who are the daughters of Jan Fuhler," the suit states. "Those references are of a highly personal, sensitive, intimate, confidential, and private nature such that the disclosure of the matters referenced would humiliate and embarrass the plaintiffs."

To make things worse, the records were transferred to another case against Petrovich in which a woman, Bonnie Seitz, alleged Petrovich had committed medical malpractice while under the influence of cocaine, the complaint says.

"In the course of defending the Seitz case, and perhaps other lawsuits, Dr. Petrovich, Gateway Regional Medical Center, Community Health Systems, Heartland Clinic, and Behr, McCarter & Potter and Richard Behr transferred copies of Jan Fuhler's psychiatric records from her file in the retaliatory discharge case to a hired expert witness in the Seitz case for the purpose of defeating entirely or minimizing the claims of Ms. Seitz and perhaps others," the suit states.

Not until October did the Fuhlers discover the publications of Jan Fuhler's records.

Because the medical records became public, plaintiffs Megan and Emily Fuhler say they suffered emotional distress, shame, grief, humiliation and anguish.

The records should never have been released in the first place, as the subpoena requesting them failed to comply with the Illinois Mental Health Confidentiality Act, according to the complaint.

In the 24-count suit, the Fuhlers seek an unspecified judgment, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Roy C. Dripps of Armbruster, Dripps, Winterscheidt and Blotevogel in Alton will be representing them.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-46.

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