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Hospitals and SB 2404
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Hospital boards should be open

The Mississippi Press Association and its members support SB 2404, a bill that would remove the exemption from the Open Meetings Act for publicly owned hospitals in the state. Below is an editorial that appeared Sunday, Feb. 9, in The Greenwood Commonwealth.

One of the glaring and longstanding exemptions in Mississippi’s Open Meetings Law is the blanket one given to publicly owned hospitals.

Even though these hospitals are owned by taxpayers and even though the taxpayers are on the hook if they should go sour financially, the public is not entitled to observe the deliberations of the boards that run them.

A Senate bill that passed out of committee last week would change that. Predictably, the Mississippi Hospital Association is fighting the effort.

There is a lot of smoke being raised by opponents as to why opening up public hospital boards is a bad idea.

First, there’s the red herring that confidential patient records might get out. They would not. Federal patient privacy laws forbid any such disclosure.

Second, there’s the claim that private hospitals that compete for patients with their publicly owned counterparts might use the access to pick up some trade secrets. If the private hospitals truly are interested in finding out what public hospital boards decide, they can already do so by reading the public board’s minutes.

Besides, this “competitive” excuse doesn’t hold water with other public institutions. Mississippi’s eight public universities compete with private colleges for students, but the meetings of the College Board, the policymaking body for the universities, are open. Public schools compete with private and parochial schools for students, but school board meetings are open. What’s so different about a hospital board?

Nothing.

Some hospital boards are more open than others. For example, locally, the Commonwealth has usually been allowed in recent years to attend meetings of the Greenwood Leflore Hospital Board when the newspaper has requested. Such access, though, should be a given. It shouldn’t require permission or be dependent on whoever happens to be in authority at the time.

Opening up hospital board meetings isn’t just helpful to the media. It’s helpful to hospital employees.?Presently, unless a hospital board allows it, doctors, nurses and other staff members have no right to hear what policy changes their employer is considering.

Openness will make hospital boards and hospital administrations more accountable to those who own the hospital and to those who work at it.

The exemption that allows these boards to operate in secret should be removed.

Read more about SB 2404.

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