A bill intended to bring greater transparency to Mississippi’s public hospitals has passed a House committee – but it’s been limited to just one hospital in the state, Singing River Health System in Jackson County. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
Mississippi community hospitals are currently exempt from the state’s open meetings rules, but a pension crisis at Singing River led to calls for more openness at the state's publicly owned hospitals.
Representative Sam Mims of McComb is chair of the House Public Health committee. If the committee's version passes, Singing River will be required to open its board meetings to the public, similarly to any other public body like city councils. Mims notes the bill also adds in some pension reporting requirements.
"Obviously, we had an issue down in Jackson County with the pension reforms that needed to be taken care of," he says. "We knew that and we needed to address it, and so we have. So this legislation deals with Jackson County, and we will have time as we go down the road to study how this affects all public hospitals."
The Mississippi Hospital Association has come out strongly against the original bill, which would have required all public hospitals to comply with open meetings rules. The association says it would, among other reasons, put public hospitals at a competitive disadvantage.
But State Senator Brice Wiggins, the author of the original bill, argues the problems are not limited to Jackson County and that what the issues faced by Singing River really reflect is the lack of transparency in the current system.
"It's an example of what the law has allowed to perpetuate," he says. "And for the hospital association to make this only about Singing River is wrong. The issue should be about the citizens, and transparency and what is right for Mississippians."
The bill now goes to the full house for a vote. If it passes, it will likely go to a conference committee made up representatives from both chambers, where it could be changed again.