FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Public hospitals in Mississippi will be required to open their board meetings to the public, starting July 1 of this year.
The current open meetings law was revised this legislative session to include public hospitals, and Governor Phil Bryant is expected to sign Senate Bill 2407 into law.
As of now, Forrest General Hospital's Board of Trustees does not open their board meetings to the public nor do they have financial reports accessible to the public. However, that will change when the law takes effect.
"I think the board is fine with this," said board member Amy Arrington. "This is the community's hospital."
All seven Forrest General board members are appointed by the Forrest County Board of Supervisors, and SB 2407 allows supervisors to remove trustees for good cause. The hospital, which is self-sustaining, has not accepted county funds since 1963, according to FGH Chief of Marketing Millie Swan. Arrington said although finance reports are not currently provided to the public, the board does "routinely" provide them to the county supervisors.
Critics of the newly revised law say it puts public hospitals at a disadvantage to private hospitals, but Arrington said sensitive information, such as hiring processes and patient information, is exempt from public record.
"The law recognizes that and includes exceptions for those types of things, so I do think they've taken that into account," she explained.
Public hospitals, along with the state's community college board, Institutions of Higher Learning and Department of Finance and Administration will all be required to have "accountability and transparency" websites live by January 1, 2016.
Hospitals must include items such as financial reports and audits, hospital budgets, expenditure information for each community hospital and other financial documents used to "allocate, appropriate, spend and account for public funds."
Arrington said the board will have to learn the proper way to get these items online and easily accessible, which will take time, but she said the open meetings will not change how the board conducts meetings.
"We are here to serve the patients of not only Forrest County but the other counties that Forrest General serves," she said. "We don't have anything to hide from anyone. We will just adjust our meetings accordingly."
To read the bill, click here.