Bill Filed to Remove Sunshine Law Exemption for TN Public Hospitals

State legislators upset with a Southeast Tennessee public hospital’s decision to discuss bonus compensation for management-level employees in private have begun the process of dealing with the issue legislatively

The bill — SB0026/HB0016 — would remove the legislative authorization for public hospitals to “have closed meetings and confidential records concerning marketing strategies and strategic plans.”

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, the Chattanooga Republican sponsoring the bill, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press recently that Erlanger Health System — a public hospital in the Scenic City — had “abused the spirit of the law and since they’ve done that we need to change the law and just make them operate in the ‘sunshine’ so everyone can know what they’re doing.”

According to the TFP, a hospital spokesperson said Erlanger would continue to abide by the state’s open meeting laws, but added that public hospitals should be treated the same as any other hospital in Tennessee, “and not be put at a competitive disadvantage.”

Earlier this year, Erlanger’s Board of Trustees held private meetings to discuss and approve $1.7 million in bonuses for its managers. This upset several Hamilton County legislators, who had helped the hospital get approval to receive $19 million in federal assistance after the Board came to legislators in fear of ending the year with a financial shortfall.

The Hamilton County legislative delegation has also requested an opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery as to whether or not the hospital violated the sunshine laws.

The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah.

The 109th General Assembly is wrapping up its organizational session this week, and will return for regular session on Feb. 9.  The Legislature will convene in a special session on Feb. 2 to hold discussions on Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal.