The hospital’s board of directors does not get it: RMC is a public hospital, its board members appointed by local governments. As such, it is imperative that Calhoun County’s second-largest employer retains the trust of the public it serves.
Even more, as a public hospital, RMC must follow state law and adhere to Alabama’s public records laws.
RMC’s latest gaffe — refusing to release details about its 2011 budget — is another example of the hospital board preferring secrecy and questionable decisions over transparency and strict observance of state law.
Shame on the RMC board.
Telling a Star reporter that it preferred for certain segments of the public hospital’s budget to remain private because of the competitive nature of the industry is irrelevant. Preference isn’t important; state law is.
The heat felt atop the east Anniston hill where RMC sits has been intense ever since an unnamed doctor — “Dr. John Doe,” as the hospital refers to him — recklessly faxed the names of emergency room patients in February to a local law firm.
That severe breach of patient-privacy rights of students from a Birmingham high school was bad enough for RMC, the largest of Calhoun County’s three hospitals. That the hospital wouldn’t release details of the incident — how it happened, who did it, was money exchanged for the patients’ names — smeared RMC and its board with the grime of convenient silence.
Residents needed to hear what detailed steps the hospital had taken to prevent this from happening to their own information.
Instead, the hospital said it had reprimanded the doctor and rendered the case closed.
The board’s bungling of the privacy breach investigation put a sizeable dent in the public’s trust in RMC. It still hasn’t been repaired. Today, it is unfortunate that RMC’s leadership seems intent on making the same mistakes of shunning openness.
The public’s need — and right — to know details of the hospital’s budget is couched in reality. The hospital’s financial health is a sizzling topic on Anniston’s streets. January layoffs at RMC have left the impression that the hospital is not well, that the Great Recession, among other things, has weakened the hospital’s bottom line.
Together, these missteps, along with the bleak economy, put the future of the hospital into severe question.
RMC’s board could replace speculation with facts about the hospital’s financial health if it would adhere to public records laws and release its budget details. Transparency isn’t an evil that the hospital should ignore by hiding behind claims of competitive disadvantage.
End the speculation, RMC board. Show the public how the hospital is doing. Let us know that Calhoun County’s largest hospital, a public hospital, is weathering these tough economic times — if it is. It’s that simple.
Plus, it’s the law.