Crowe bill to balance proprietary records with open record access and accountability passes committee


NASHVILLE – Legislation which seeks to balance proprietary records with open record access and improved accountability as it addresses the Wellmont–Mountain States merger, was approved by the Senate Health and General Welfare Committee on Wednesday.  Senate Bill 2048, sponsored by Senate Health and General Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), enhances reporting requirements for the company under the Certificate Of Public Advantage (COPA), while protecting sensitive business information from competitors.  The amendment also places all operational and financial records under the constant supervision of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health.
“In January, as the senator representing the third Senate district where corporate offices of our new hospital system, Ballad Health, are located, I was asked to introduce legislation to protect the system’s proprietary information.  This was, in essence, to put them on an even playing field with all other not-for-profit hospital systems in our state. After studying this draft legislation and discussing it with my constituents and other stakeholders, I determined that the language of the draft bill sent to me was too broad and I began to seek input to improve the legislation.”
Crowe said what followed was an attempt to address the issue of finding the proper balance in protecting the new hospital system’s financially sensitive information, while affording constituents the most enhanced, open records reporting requirements possible.
“I spoke with numerous constituents and convened all the stakeholders, including the Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Records, The Attorney General’s office, the Tennessee Department of Health and representatives of Ballad Health, to discuss how we might refine the legislation,” he added.  “The result of these conversations is an amendment that promotes the most transparency possible under COPA, while offering protection for information that is normally kept as proprietary from a business perspective by all not-for-profit hospitals so they may effectively engage in their day to day operations and business. This new bill will allow only that which has been proprietary to Wellmont and Mountain States in the past. Nothing that has been open to records in the past will now be closed.”
The legislation, as amended, lists the types of records that would not be subject to disclosure under the Tennessee Public Records Act.  It, however, gives the state discretion to disclose these records after review by the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Health if deemed appropriate.  A COPA recipient, applicant, or a third party would have an opportunity to object to the disclosure if the party believes the records contains sensitive information.
Crowe, added, “Some of the information that Ballad Health will be required to submit to the state contains financially sensitive information that for all not-for-profit hospital systems, pursuant to Tennessee open records law, has never been subject to disclosure. Everyone involved, including the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, agrees that the financially sensitive information needs to be kept as proprietary in order for the organization to remain viable. At the same time, Ballad will be subject to the most enhanced reporting requirements and standards for hospital systems in our state.”
“I want to thank the Department of Health, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ballad executives, and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, my constituents and the media for their valuable input as we refined this bill,” Crowe continued.  “With these protections in place, I believe that Ballad Health will be able to honor its obligations to the people I serve under the COPA and at the same time, remain a successful health system.”

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