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Publicly owned hospitals should fall under 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. Right here in Kosciusko, the poor financial shape of Montfort Jones Memorial Hospital may have been brought to light much sooner if the media had been allowed to attend the meetings of the hospital board of trustees.

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 Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings were 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 Neshoba General Hospital 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 sale of these institutions.

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 proceedings of the hospital board members. Openness will make the board and the administration more accountable to everyone with a vested interest in the hospital, taxpayers and employees alike.

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

The Star-Herald, Kosciusko, March 4, 2015
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