JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Proposed legislation that's demanding more transparency at public hospitals was introduced this week and could soon become law. We are talking about changes to the open meetings law. State Sen. Brice Wiggins said the changes will hopefully prevent issues like the troubled pension plan mess at Singing River Health System from ever happening again.
"I have had retirees call me on the phone crying because of what happened," said Wiggins.
Those tears from Singing River Health System's retired employees inspired Wiggins to work on reforming the Open Meetings Act.
Back in October, health system officials revealed after 2009 they had stopped contributing to the employee pension plan, but the decision was never communicated to the retirees and employees until late last year.
"People feel like trust has been violated because this was their and our hospital. It is just not me that gets these comments. My colleagues in the legislature get these comments. People deserve answers, and they have a right to know," said Wiggins.
Wiggins introduced a bill this week that removes the exemption of community hospitals from the Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act.
Currently, public hospital boards can meet behind closed doors. Wiggins said while there is some information that should remain confidential, such as patient information, he believes this bill could force Singing River, as well as other community hospitals, to become more transparent in the future.
"This will restore trust. Secondly, as a government entity who deals with government funds, if something happens to them, they would have to rely on taxes being raised to bail them out. It will bring openness and transparency and let people see what is going on, including the press. It is about removing that secrecy," said Wiggins.
Creating and enforcing new requirements to serve as a trustee of a community hospital is also in the bill.
"I think part of the problem not just here, but statewide, is that you have had people on not just hospital boards, but other boards that it is a political position opposed to people having the qualifications. I think we need to get back to where we have qualified people," said Wiggins.
He is optimistic he will get the support needed for this bill to become law.
"We in Jackson County can be leaders on this. Just like we were leaders on reforming DMR. We can be the leaders on this," said Wiggins.
Wiggins also wants the terms of all current SRHS trustees to end Jan. 31, 2016, and new trustees will become effective Feb. 1, 2016. This will allow the new Jackson County Board of Supervisors, which as a whole will be elected in November 2015 and take office January 2016, to appoint new trustees, if it so desires.