Opinion

Open meetings are necessary and required | Editorial

State law and the state Supreme Court indicate meetings and records of PeaceHealth’s governing board, to be appointed to oversee operations of the proposed hospital on San Juan Island, must be open to the public.

Openness is a good thing. And we are encouraged by Jim Barnhart’s comments; he is CEO of PeaceHealth’s Suislaw Region in Oregon and has been appointed by PeaceHealth to lead the planning and development of the proposed hospital here. He said of open public meetings and public records requirements: “We, of course, would abide by any requirements that exist.”

PeaceHealth officials have said the meetings would not be open to the public because PeaceHealth is a private non-profit. But the governing board is a quasi-public agency and subject to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and state Public Record Act for the following reasons:

1. It was created by a public agency and serves a governmental function. The San Juan County Public Hospital Commission, which operates Inter Island Medical Center and San Juan EMS, voted March 18 to give PeaceHealth authority to build and operate a hospital on San Juan Island for 50 years. The commission assigned governance of the hospital to a governing board to be appointed by PeaceHealth.

2. PeaceHealth would receive more than $1 million a year — about $60 million over the life of the contract — in local property tax revenues to subsidize health care.

The state’s Open Public Meetings Act declares “All meetings of the governing body of a public agency shall be open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency ...” The act includes in its definition of a public agency “Any subagency of a public agency which is created by or pursuant to statute, ordinance, or other legislative act, including but not limited to planning commissions, library or park boards, commissions, and agencies ...”

The state’s Public Records Act applies to “every county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation, or special purpose district, or any office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency.”

From the beginning, the public, its hospital district commission and PeaceHealth have been partners in the hospital project. One-third of the cost of building the hospital will be provided by local philanthropy. And we will subsidize hospital services with the property taxes we now pay to the hospital district. In exchange, PeaceHealth will fund two-thirds of the cost of building the hospital, and will bring to the community its expertise in providing 24/7 medical care, including many services for which islanders must now travel to the mainland.

The hospital project has been and is a partnership. Keeping governance of the hospital open to the public is a necessary — and required — component of that partnership.

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