I received a lot of feedback on my post about whether The Children’s Hospital should be accountable to the taxpayers. Surprisingly all of it was supportive. Many, if not all of you seem to agree with me. Online, an anonymous commenter left some excellent points about how to proceed on this issue. Offline, many of you shared your thoughts with me and offered suggestions. As far as I am concerned, the El Paso Children’s Hospital needs to be accountable to the community.
Before I go into the details of what steps I am taking, I wanted to answer the question that invariably will be raised. The question is whether the taxpayers of the community have a right to know the finances of the El Paso Children’s Hospital. I have already pointed you to the funding mechanism used to create the children’s hospital. There is no doubt that it was taxpayer monies.
To that fact, I would like to add two additional facts. The first is that the University Medical Center, a tax-funded operation, placed a lien on the children’s hospital alleging the hospital owes UMC money. If that is true, then the children’s hospital owes money to the taxpayers’ of the community. On December 3, 2014, both the El Paso Times and KVIA reported that Jim Valenti, President and CEO for UMC, stated that the negotiations between the El Paso Children’s Hospital and UMC is for the taxpayer funded hospital district to take over and operate the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
Clearly, there is no doubt that taxpayer monies are involved in the El Paso Children’s Hospital yet they refuse to release information to the community.
Because of that, I have decided to take the following steps, all of them as a result of your encouragement and suggestions.
Last Friday, December 12, 2014 I faxed a letter to County Attorney Jo Ann Bernal formally requesting that her office compel the El Paso Children’s Hospital to release the information I requested on Susie Byrd’s contract. I also copied the letter to the individual at the El Paso Children’s Hospital that denied my request.
I expect this to be a long process but one I have decided to undertake and therefore I will keep you all apprised as the process moves along. The Texas Public Information Act provides mechanisms to force the disclosure of public information and I will use as many of those tools as possible. If nothing else, a template will be created for those that wish to pursue the disclosure of other public information that is of public interest.
This issue is also a sad commentary about the state of the local news media. The El Paso Children’s Hospital is the lead of most of the news outlets yet, to my knowledge, not one reporter has taken the steps that I have taken to try to inform the community. I am a blogger who should be focusing on writing commentary about issues not doing investigative reporting.
The news media industry is undergoing fundamental changes because of the rise of the citizen reporters. The news media outlets decry the “unprofessional” news media outlets yet when given the opportunity to stand out of the crowd they do not take the opportunity to show what “professional” news people do. International and national news will from now on be dominated by the large news collaboratives. Sports, likewise. That leaves coverage of local political issues in the hands of the local news. This is where they can excel yet it seems they haven’t figured that out yet.
Here is the timeline of the events so far:
On December 9, 2014 I requested the information on Susie Byrd’s contract with the El Paso Children’s Hospital. Download a copy of the letter here.
On December 11, 2014 I received an email from Melissa Dugal from the El Paso Children’s Hospital where she writes that the El Paso Children’s Hospital has “denied” my request. Dugal copied Jim Sexton, Susie Byrd, Thomas Cassidy, Georgina Panahi and Susan Koch of the Jackson Walker law firm.
On December 12, 2014 I submitted a letter to Jo Anne Bernal requesting that she compel the El Paso Children’s Hospital to release the information to me under the Texas Public Information Act. Download a copy of the letter here.