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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Bill Would Bring Hospital Boards Under Open Meeting Laws

Bob Kinzel

Legislation to bring the state's hospitals under Vermont's Open Meeting Law faces an uphill battle at the Statehouse.

Backers of the legislation argue that because Vermont hospitals receive more than a billion dollars in state and federal funds, the Board meetings of these institutions should be subject to Vermont's Open Meeting Law.

Ethan Parke is a member of Vermont Health Care for All. He says hospital Boards make important public policy decisions with government funds and he thinks it's a key democratic principle to have these meetings open to the public.

"I think if we accept the notion that hospital care is a public good that we will all need at some point in our lives then we should apply a democratic principle to hospital governance even though the hospitals in Vermont are private corporations."

Jill Olson is the vice president for policy for the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

She says it's important to allow Hospital Board members to have frank discussions of key issues and she thinks opening all Board meetings to the public could stifle this process.

"But to have every conversation begin in a public way I think would potentially be harmful and really not allow our trustees to do the work that we ask them to do and that communities rely on them to do."

Lincoln Rep. Mike Fisher is the chairman of the House Health Care committee. He likes the idea of having more transparency in the state's healthcare system but he doesn't think using the Open Meeting Law is the best way to achieve this goal.

"Frankly I haven't heard exactly what transparency people are looking for so the question of what the right level of transparency is a good question. I don't believe that the Open Meeting law is the right tool to use to fix this issue."

It's uncertain if the either the House or Senate Health Care committee will vote on this bill in the coming weeks.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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