April 29, 2006

Oconee Regional denies access to Hospital Year End Audit

For years the TWG as well as the Board of Commissioners has obtained copies of the audit for Jasper Memorial/Jasper Health Services as well as for Oconee Regional Medical Center. The audit includes both entities. The TWG pays for its copies; the BOC receives a copy because of their financial contribution to the entity.

This year the TWG again requested, through Open Records, a copy of the audit when it was available. We were told several times it wasn’t completed yet. The fiscal year ends September 30th for Jasper Health Services. After reading about Oconee’s CFO, Jean Aycock, presenting the audit 2 months ago to the hospital board, we again asked for a copy of the audit. We were again told, “That was just a “draft audit” that was presented. When we get the final audit, we will let you know.”

We have now found that not only have they denied the TWG a copy of the audit, but they have also denied the Jasper County BOC a copy. The BOC should not accept this position by ORMC and the denial of information. The taxpayers of Jasper County invest over $1000 a day into the hospital. Every taxpayer as well as the BOC who oversee the spending of our tax money has a right to see this audit. There have been several court cases that have been decided in favor of “the public’s right to know” concerning hospitals and hospital authorities as well as private corporations that run hospitals.

At the April meeting of the Hospital Board, the following was reported by the Monticello News: (see April 27, 2006, Monticello News, page 7):

“In other business, Oconee Regional Medical Center (ORMC) chief executive officer Brian Riddle informed board members that the Jasper County Commission's request for an ORMC 2005 audit report had been denied by his board of directors. He said that there was an obvious mistrust on both parties behalf.

Mr. Riddle also said that there were concerns expressed about the pertinence of an ORMC audit to the local commission and furthermore fulfilling that request would not answer the questions to which the commission was seeking answers about Jasper Memorial.”

TWG questions the motives in denying a copy of the audit to Jasper’s BOC. If there were truly mistrust on both parties behalf, wouldn’t releasing the audited financial figures help to dispel that mistrust? What is there to hide? Why has ORMC delayed this request so long? We don’t know how many times the BOC has asked for the audit, but we do know the TWG has asked on at least 4 different occasions. Mr. Riddle also states, “fulfilling that request (copies of the audit) would not answer the questions to which the commission was seeking answers about Jasper Memorial.” How does he know what questions the BOC has? What about questions the public might have? Does he know what they are? Why the secrecy? There have been reports that the hospital made a profit again this year. Shouldn’t the public know if they did and how much the profit was from the official audit?

If it is true that ORMC’s lawyers have advised them not to release the audit, it would be surprising. “Richmond County Hospital Authority v. Southeastern Newspapers Corp” (two cases), Supreme Court of Georgia (1984) and “Northwest Georgia Health System, Inc v. Times-Journal, Inc.”, Appeals Court (1995) both have ruled that hospitals and hospital authorities as well as private corporations that run hospitals are subject to Open Records laws and must disclose salaries and financial information.

The hospital receives a great deal of tax revenue—such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Indigent payments, and in Jasper’s (Oconee’s) case, it also received over $500,000 of tax money directly from the taxpayers of Jasper County.

Mr. Riddle is scheduled to speak at the BOC meeting Monday, May 1. Citizens should make plans to attend.


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