Above: District 3 State Senator Rusty Crowe (File photo)
By Scott Robertson
Representatives of Ballad Health are in “constructive talks” with the Tennessee Attorney General’s office and the Department of Health regarding an amendment or amendments to a bill that aims to remove many Ballad Health documents from the public record.
District 3 State Senator Rusty Crowe sponsored Senate Bill 2048, which removes from the public eye documents the Department of Health had planned to publish regarding Ballad’s compliance with the recently signed Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA). That COPA allowed the merger of Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System. Under the COPA, the state is charged with ensuring Ballad meet several commitments to offset potential negative effects of loss of competition between the two former systems.
Under Senate Bill 2048, as written, “Records made or received by an independent firm or individual retained by the state to monitor, review, supervise, or otherwise provide oversight with respect to a cooperative agreement governed by a certificate of public advantage, including, but not limited to, monitoring compliance and evaluating performance,” will be removed from the public record.
The Department of Health has sent Crowe a suggested amendment to that bill, he said, and now the state and the system are in talks. “I didn’t realize what a firestorm would be set off by this bill that’s really only about keeping the hospital system’s proprietary information out of the hands of competing systems,” Crowe said. “I have been hearing from constituents. I have been hearing from the attorney general. I have been hearing from the Department of Health. I have been hearing from Ballad. As such, I want to make sure that all these entities are working together.”
Crowe defended Ballad’s right to keep certain records out of the public realm. “No other system would have to make public its negotiations with an NCO, or with one doctors’ group or another, or with a payor,” Crowe said. “If you go into a hospital system office and ask, ‘What’s your physician recruitment plan for the Children’s Hospital,’ they’re not going to tell you.”
“The problem is that the attorney general ruled that once the COPA information goes into the state’s hands, it all becomes open record, even what was proprietary information for Mountain States or Wellmont before,” Crowe said. “Ballad shouldn’t have to reveal salaries for middle management nurses. Mission in Asheville tries to hire away our nurses all the time. So having everything open would put Ballad at a huge disadvantage.”
Among the items listed to be removed from the public record are documents relating to facility closures or repurposing and deletions of service lines. Both were hot button topics during the COPA process.
Crowe said he sees room for progress in talks between the state and system, since the suggested amendment does allow some information to remain proprietary. “What I want, and what I have wanted all along, is to make sure that all information that is normally, customarily and appropriately held proprietary continues to be held proprietary, and that what should be in open records will be.”
“I would like to have been able to simply write a bill that says, ‘I want what was proprietary before to be now,’ but it’s not that simple,” Crowe said.