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House puts open hospital meetings and records back on track

Healthcare_logo_rgbJACKSON — The Mississippi House gave new life Tuesday to a push to open some now-closed public hospital board meetings and expand access to hospital records.

The House voted 109-8 to send forward an amended version of Senate Bill 2407. The House and Senate will have to work out their differences before the bill could become law.

The push for openness began after Pascagoula-based Singing River Health System announced last year that it wanted to end its pension plan. That system revealed last year that it had secretly stopped putting money into the employee pension fund in 2009. Workers are still getting pension payments, with hospital efforts to stop paying them tangled in litigation.

Singing River retirees visited the Capital on Tuesday, saying they were pleased after the full House reversed a committee amendment that would have made new legal provisions only apply to the two-hospital system in Jackson County.

“I think we’ve been heard,” said retiree Jean Manning of Moss Point. “That amendment, I think, is going to be fine.”

Some lawmakers, though, continued to question why changes were needed that would apply statewide.

“Why don’t we just cure Jackson County and take other problems as they come?” asked Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel.

Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, said requiring more openness at other hospitals would prevent problems from recurring elsewhere. However, it’s unclear how many other hospitals operate their own freestanding pension systems.

“We can do something so that going forward, we can try to keep this from ever happening with any other hospital,” Busby said.

The bill would allow hospital boards to close meetings for reasons already allowed. It also would create some new hospital-focused exemptions such as discussing employee and physician recruitment, awarding staff privileges, discussing patient information or most business discussions.

The measure says financial reports, audits, budgets and meeting minutes are public records and requires financial documents be posted online. But it would exempt most other records of business operations from the state public records act.

The bill also would require that all hospital trustees live in the city or county that owns their hospitals; not owe a debt to the hospitals or be involved in a suit against them; and not be convicted felons. The measure would allow county supervisors to remove hospital trustees for good cause. County supervisors could remove hospital trustees for good cause if they voted unanimously or by a majority vote if other hospital trustees requested the move.



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