Public hospital board meetings should be open

Published 6:59 am Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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

These hospitals are owned by taxpayers who are on the hook if they go sour financially, but public is not entitled to observe deliberations of the boards that run them.

A Senate bill passed out of committee recently would change that. Predictably, the Mississippi Hospital Association opposes the bill.

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A lot of smoke being created by opponents on why opening up the boards is a bad idea.

There’s the red herring that confidential patient records might get out. Federal patient privacy laws forbid that.

There’s the claim that private hospitals that compete for patients might pick up trade secrets. If the private hospitals truly are interested in finding out what public hospital boards decide, they can do so by reading the public board’s minutes.

This excuse doesn’t hold water with other public institutions. Mississippi’s public universities compete with private colleges for students, but the meetings of the College Board, are open. Public schools compete with private and parochial schools for students, but school board meetings are open.

Some hospital boards are more open than others. The Greenwood Leflore Hospital Board opens when the local newspaper seeks access. Such access should be a given.

Opening up hospital board meetings is helpful to hospital employees and the public. Unless a hospital board allows it, doctors, nurses, other staff and the public have no right to hear what policy changes are being considered.

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

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

— Miss Press Association editorial