A member of the OCH Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees, who previously filed a civil suit against hospital administrator Jim Jackson and her fellow board members, asked the Oktibbeha County board of supervisors to grant her access to hard copies of documents from the hospital.
Peggy Rogers, who was appointed to the board in June 2020, alleged the hospital, with the OCH trustees’ approval, withheld public information she needs to perform her duties. Rogers appeared before supervisors Monday morning claiming, as a trustee, she had the right of access to these hospital records, such as employees’ salaries and contract information.
Rogers told supervisors if “they wish oversight of the operations of OCH” they should release three pieces of information — all compensation for the 50 highest paid individuals employed by OCH, including all benefits and bonuses in 2018-20; all documents for the 50 largest contracts for non-medical services, such as insurance and public legal services, contracted out by OCH for 2018-20; and all documents for the 20 largest medical contracts entered into by OCH for those years.
The supervisors did not authorize Rogers this access, but instead, by a 3-2 vote, passed a resolution of acknowledgement of a letter sent to Rogers by Jackson last week, which provided in-person access to what she asked for in her lawsuit.
OCH Chief Legal Officer and Compliance Officer Patricia J. Faver said the letter told Rogers she could review these records in the hospital’s administrative suite but she cannot have copies or leave the hospital with the documents due to the hospital’s confidentiality policy.
“Hospitals are run quite differently than a public entity,” Faver said. “On OCH’s transparency page, you can pull up a public request, and it sets forth the statute of everything that is public record and what is excluded from a hospital.”
OCH is a county-owned hospital funded by taxpayer dollars.
The hospital’s public record policy says individuals may request to see public records, but may do so only within the hospital and cannot leave the entity with the documents. The transparency page lists documents OCH does not consider public record and are exempt from inspection or copy, such as appraisal records, charitable organizations registration information, patient billing and collection information and insurance company information, among others.
Faver said one reason these papers cannot be released is that other competing hospitals in the region could target the physicians and vendors of service OCH contracts out.
Rogers’ attorney, Wilbur Colom, said the only thing that is private in hospitals is patient records, not insurance or salaries, and believes Rogers should have physical copies of documents if she wants. He said he had already requested these desired documents from the trustees’ attorney, George Ritter of Wise Law Firm in Jackson, but was denied access.
“For some reason, the current administration has interpreted the statute in a way that basically keeps everything a secret,” Colom said. “The only person you could identify with a salary is the CEO.”
Board of Supervisors Attorney Rob Roberson said the supervisors could not allow Rogers the physical documentation she wanted because this situation has not been litigated. Because she already filed a lawsuit, a court could potentially grant her access.
Rogers filed the lawsuit in March. Aside from document denial, Rogers claimed “(hospital) management is unaccountable to anyone and operates the medical center not as a public entity but as an unaccountable private enterprise.”
“All we ever see is what Mr. Jackson wants the trustees to see,” Rogers said. “To put it bluntly, Mr. Jackson has absolute unregulated power. If there is waste, abuse or misconduct, there is no way to protect the taxpayers.”
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, one of the two supervisors to vote against the resolution with District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery, said he does not believe this issue should be determined by the board of supervisors because a lawsuit has already been filed and the situation should be handled in court.
“To me, right now, this seems to be the wrong setting to handle this,” Howard said. “It seems that this stage should have happened before the lawsuit. Now that a lawsuit has been filed, I don’t feel comfortable commenting, advising, instructing or directing anyone to do anything at this stage.”
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said she believes Rogers’ request of information is a normal pattern of opinion for someone in her position.
“I believe the letter from the hospital to Dr. Rogers acknowledges that they value her as a trustee and will grant her access to the information requested,” Miller said. “Any additional details will have to be worked out in a court of law if that is the path that is pursued.”