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March 2, 2015

FOR MORE INFORMATION, Contact:

Layne Bruce, Executive Director

Mississippi Press Association

601-981-3060

 

Publicly Owned Hospitals Should Not Be Exempt From the Mississippi Open Meetings Act

 

A public hospital is owned by the taxpayers.

 

In most communities, the hospital is the largest public asset and potentially largest liability to the taxpayers. As long as a hospital is making money, all is fine. But if it starts losing, the taxpayers are on the hook. An example is the publicly owned Natchez Regional Medical Center filed for bankruptcy twice in five years.  Additionally, the retirement fund debacle at Singing River Hospital in Jackson County is well documented.

 

Taxpayers deserve to know the whole story. Natchez Regional Medical Center sued its former management company and settled out of court but agreed to seal the terms. Those details were only disclosed after the Chapter 9 Bankruptcy filing was made public.

 

Even routine matters can be fraught with red tape and acrimony. In 2007, the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors had to pass an order forcing the Neshoba General Hospital Board to turn over an engineering report.

 

The public has a right to know how its hospital is operating, including the increasingly common discussions about the potential sale of the hospital.

 

Removing the Open Meetings exemption is not just going to help the media.

 

Doctors, nurses and other staff members of a hospital presently have no right to observe the deliberations of the hospital board members. Openness will make the hospital board and the hospital administration more accountable to everyone, taxpayers and employees alike, with a vested interest in the hospital.

 

As in neighboring states such as Arkansas and Tennessee, Mississippi’s publicly owned hospitals should not be exempt from the Open Meetings Act.

 

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