by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
One argument that has been offered for keeping the BJC lease of Boone County Hospital is that if the lease is cancelled, information about hospital operations will be available to the public and press via the Missouri Sunshine Law. Operating as a private company, BJC can’t be forced to give information to the press or public about contracts, accounting records, or the hiring practices at Boone Hospital.
It generates more than a little cognitive dissonance when those same trustees who foreshadow bad things happening if the hospital operates under the Sunshine Law tell me in the same breath that Boone Hospital is “my” hospital. That I — and all the other residents of Boone County — own it.
Well, if it is my hospital, why can’t I know what it is doing?
Would embarrassing things get into the press if Boone Hospital were subject to the Sunshine Law? Certainly. We live in a town with one of the largest concentration of journalists in the country, so you can bet mountains of ink will be spilled on any molehill of a story. But as we have seen time and time again, it is not about the story itself but about how our public officials react to it. If they try to cover it up, then things do get embarrassing — and rightly so. If they own up to a problem and correct it, the public really doesn’t care much that a mistake was made. Most people realize mistakes happen. They just want to see them corrected, especially when public money is involved.
To argue it is better to keep your foibles and mistakes covered by the warm blanket of BJC’s corporate charter is insulting to the public “owners” of the hospital. Boone Countians built this hospital for the benefit of Boone Countians, and we are certainly capable of understanding that, in such a complex operation, occasional mistakes might be made.
In contrast, University Hospital operates in the open and has to explain its spending to the public. By and large, the public approves of the expenditures made. Every once in a while, a public debate will ensue about the justification for another helicopter or some other piece of equipment or program. But the public, especially those in the aging baby boomer generation, seems more than willing to spend whatever it takes for health care and rarely questions such expenditures.