FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - Former patients of Saint Catherine Medical Center Fountain Springs have one year to get their medical records, according to an order signed by a federal judge Wednesday allowing the hospital's bankruptcy trustee to get rid of them.

In his three-page order, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John J. Thomas ruled Trustee William G. Schwab's request was justified and authorized him to begin to dispose of the records in accordance with federal law.

"We will arrange for (patients) to pick them up," Schwab said of the records, which are being stored at the 101 Broad St. hospital just outside Ashland in Butler Township. "They'll have to fill out a form and get back to me."

Thomas authorized Schwab to publish advertisements in The Republican-Herald and The News-Item outlining how people and/or insurance providers can claim the records.

Schwab said he will send notices to approximately 44,000 people whose records are at the hospital.

Patients will have to sign a medical authorization form to get their records, Schwab said. He said the records also can be forwarded to a patient's doctor.

Thomas also allowed Schwab to seek to transfer the records to another entity capable of legally disposing of them, provided he places an advertisement in the same two newspapers informing the public that he is doing so.

Schwab already has drafted the notice he will send to people outlining how they can obtain their records.

Under the terms of Thomas' order, Schwab is authorized to destroy the records within one year. Alternatively, he can transfer them to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.