Peninsula hospital to continue secrecy policies

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2000

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The corporation that runs a publically owned hospital in Soldotna is refusing to open its meetings to the community, despite increasing pressure to do so.

''We do not have to have open meetings,'' said Dolly Farnsworth, vice president of the CPGH Inc. board of directors, during last week's meeting of a panel that advises the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on local hospital issues.

CPGH Inc. operates the Central Peninsula General Hospital under a contract with the borough, which owns the medical facility. Taxpayers in the service area contribute about $1 million per year to help support it.

The CPGH board says its not-for-profit status exempts it from the state's open meetings law.

The CPGH board met Thursday and conducted service-area business in open session for nearly an hour. During that time, the board heard a plea from former state Sen. Suzanne Little to keep its meetings open.

''You maybe have figured out a way to make your meetings legally closed,'' Little said. ''But I'm certainly imploring you to reconsider, because it's a bad idea. We need to know -- the public needs to know -- how the public's assets are managed.''

After hearing from Little, the board closed the rest of its meeting to the public. The agenda for the secret portion of its meeting included the hospital's capital equipment budget, medical staff education and a report from the hospital's management consultant.

Little's entreaty followed complaints by members of the hospital service-area board, which was created to advise the borough assembly on hospital-related matters. Advisory board members say their work has been hampered by CPGH Inc.'s secrecy policies.

Last month Borough Attorney Colette Thompson wrote a letter to CPGH Inc. stating that failure to conduct open meetings could be grounds for the borough to terminate its contract with CPGH.

Nikiski assembly member Jack Brown said in March that the borough's contract with CPGH Inc. required the corporation's meetings to follow the spirit of the state Open Meetings Act.

''If they continue to violate the concept of having open meetings, I'm going to ask -- and I think a lot of people will ask -- the mayor to find them in violation of their contract,'' he said.

CPGH board president Diana Zirul had said her board would discuss public access during last Thursday's meeting. It did not hold that discussion during the public portion of its meeting.

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