The search for paperwork more than three inches thick detailing her and her husband’s cardiac medical history has lasted more than a year for Karen Roberts.
The Clark County residents suffer serious medical conditions that require constant attention. They were being treated by Dr. Salim Dahdah, a longtime Springfield cardiologist who owned the Ohio Institute of Cardiac Care in Springfield.
But that was before he was indicted in a federal court with healthcare fraud and shuttered his practice in 2017.
Dahdah died on May 24. His wife, Cindy Dahdah, of Beavercreek, owned a billing company and was sentenced July 15 to serve five years in prison for her role in the scheme. This has left Roberts and potentially hundreds of other former patients without any way of accessing their medical history.
“We just can’t get them,” Roberts said. “We left messages at his office. We just don’t know what to do.”
Roberts said she worries about her husband the most, as he is the one with the more severe cardiac issues that’s landed him the hospital for weeks at a time.
She says not having their records is a burden on the couple and their new doctors.
“My doctor said, ‘Here I am trying to take care of you and I have no records,’” she said.
Brian Eanes, who lives in Springfield, has run into the same problem. He was a patient of Dahdah’s for more than 10 years and credits the doctor with saving his life.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Eanes said. “He was a good doctor. He was the kind that told you, ‘You got to do this and that.’ But he really took care of me.”
But now the doctor’s circumstances is endangering him. Eanes has made calls trying to find his medical records. He said his doctors have also told them not having these records is a problem.
“The doctors really don’t know what to treat me for,” he said. “They are just taking what I told them that Dr. Dahdah told me. They’ve done a few tests since but they really don’t know where to go.”
He will likely have to undergo more tests and procedures soon if his records remain missing.
The Springfield News-Sun launched an investigation to find the records after Roberts, Eanes and other former patients of Dahdah’s called the newspaper to express their frustrations.
Assistant United States Attorney Ken Affeldt prosecuted the Dahdahs and said his office does not have the records. But, he does have an idea where the records are.
“It is my understanding that the files are currently being stored by Cindy Dahdah at a warehouse,” Affeldt told the Springfield News-Sun. “I would suggest contacting Ms. Dahdah’s attorney, Karl Schneider.”
Ohio Medical Board spokeswoman Tessi Pollock gave the same suggestion.
“The patients may wish to try and contact the attorney who was representing the individual as they may have the most recent information on if the records still exist and where those records are being stored,” she said.
The Springfield News-Sun called Schneider multiple times but has been unable to connect with him to discuss the records.
Springfield attorney Dan Harkins has experience representing patients of doctors who have died or collected money for services that were not rendered. The Springfield News-Sun reached out to him to discuss options Dahdah’s former patients have for finding their records.
He said the executor of Salim Dahdah’s estate would be responsible for ensuring patients who request their records get them.
He said that based on online court records, a probate proceeding has not been opened in Greene County where the Dahdahs lived or in Clark County where they operated the doctor’s office. He said that means it’s unclear if Dahdah died with a will and who will administrate his estate.
“Under Ohio law, a creditor has to file a claim under the deceased estate within six months of the date of death,” Harkins said. “If there is no estate that is opened during that six month period of time and that six months expires, then the creditors can’t go after the estate. There is almost an incentive not to open up an estate if there are creditors that might file claims to the estate before the six month period expires.”
He said in this case, patients can be considered a creditor.
A patient who is determined to get their hands on records should consider filing an application to the probate court to be appointed as the administrator of the estate, Harkins said. If the court approves the application, then letters of authority would be issued, he said.
“…as the administrator, I would be able to find out where my records are,” Harkins said.
However, becoming the administrator would be a big responsibility because that person would then be on the hook for answering other requests. Harkins recommends the patients have legal counsel.
“There’s nothing preventing a patient from seeking appointment as the administrator,” he said.
But, Harkins said more likely the true executor would come forward and produce a will naming him or her as the rightful administrator.
“The strategy would be to force somebody to take responsibility for the estate,” he said.
The Springfield cases also prompt a larger question that impacts virtually every Ohioan: What rights do patients have to their medical records and how can they go about obtaining them?
A review of the Ohio Revised Code shows patients do have rights to their medical records. But obtaining them when a doctor suddenly stops practicing can be downright burdensome.
Pollock said in an email the Ohio Medical Board handles many records inquires.
“We frequently receive complaints of this nature when physicians face discipline, abruptly close their practice, or in the case of Salim Dahdah, are deceased,” she said.
In the email, she attached Ohio Revised Code 3701.74 that explains the process patients or patient representatives must take to request to examine or obtain copies of medical records. The statute says a patient should submit to the healthcare provider a signed written request for the records.
“The request shall indicate whether the copy is to be sent to the requestor, physician or chiropractor, or held for the requestor at the office of the health care provider,” the law says.
The statute further states the healthcare provider should work to provide the records to the requestor within a reasonable amount of time. The statute says if the healthcare provider doesn’t turn over the records, he or she can be sued.
“If a health care provider fails to furnish a medical record as required by … this section, the patient, personal representative, or authorized person who requested the record may bring a civil action to enforce the patient’s right of access to the record.”
Harkins said the statute is clear that patients do have the right to access their medical records.
“They’re entitled to their records,” he said.
The DahDahs legal troubles
Roberts, Eanes and other patients said they have repeatedly tried getting their medical records with no success since their doctor’s legal troubles began.
Cindy Dahdah pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit and committing health care fraud and making false statements related to health care matters. Her husband also pleaded guilty in October 2018 to the same crimes.
They were among more than 400 indicted in what the U.S. Justice Department called a health care fraud takedown, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office.
According to a release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, The Dahdahs would name a patient’s last seen doctor as a referring physician for invasive and unnecessary procedures, even though they were not ordered by that doctor. Cindy Dahdah would often reprimand, humiliate or threaten to terminate employees who refused to schedule the medical tests, the release stated.
To increase revenue, Salim Dahdah intentionally misinterpreted cardiac tests to justify risky procedures like the insertion of heart defibrillator when they were not necessary. For example, he told a patient in his or her 30s that he or she would die without a heart surgery. The patient underwent the surgery in 2013, and later had to undergo a second risky heart surgery, by another cardiologist, to have it removed, the release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.
As a result of the health care fraud scheme, the Dahdahs caused more than 2,000 fraudulent claims to be submitted to Medicare, Ohio Medicaid and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield totaling approximately $2 million, according to the release.
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.