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Court: Hospital Subject To FOIA

Booneville Community Hospital and its presiding board is subject to the Freedom Of Information Act, according to a circuit clerk ruling handed down last week. Testimony was given in the case on April 22.

Judge David H. McCormick held the hospital is subject in response to suit brought by Dr. Sean Champion, a surgeon who formerly worked for the hospital.

As a result the hospital board has been ordered to turn over documents Champion requested, including broad meeting minutes from 2007 through Feb. 26, 2013, BCH financial audits from 2007 through Feb. 26, 2013, non-exempt documents containing salaries of administrative employees and medical staff from 2007 through Feb. 26, 2013; and BCH by-laws, including any and all amendments from inception until Feb. 26, 2013.

The Feb. 26 date of this year was referenced by the Court as possibly changing the relationship between the city and the hospital in the future, but it held the relationship intertwined to that point in time.

The hospital claimed exemption from the FOIA based upon it being a nonprofit corporation not subject to the act but, citing the case City of Fayetteville v. Edmark, in which the state Supreme Court “determined that documents sought under FOIA were subject to disclosure because the entity in possession of those records received public funds, engaged in activities that were of public concern; and the entity was carrying on work that was intertwined with that of government bodies.”

In the case here, the Court decided, the hospital receives direct public funding via a sales tax passed by city voters.

The hospital attempted to present the funds as too small of a percentage of its total yearly revenue to warrant FOIA compliance, but the Court held that “the statute sets no minimum amount which an entity must receive before being subject to the FOIA.”

The Court referenced city ordinances to satisfy that the hospital engages in an activity of public concern in that it provides health and hospital care.

Regarding being intertwined with the city, the Court cited several incidents including the city’s previous operation of the hospital and the judge noted that the selection of board members is subject to council approval and that the city leases the facility to the hospital for $100 per month. The city has also been a guarantor for a hospital loan and entered into a lease for clinic space on behalf of the hospital.

Champion has a separate lawsuit against the hospital pending. Champion alleges the hospital breached a contract, interfered with business expectancy, violated the Arkansas Whistleblowers Act and wrongfully terminated the doctor. The amount Champion claims he is owed through the contract is $174,856.

Champion’s wife Canaan Champion also recently won a breach of contract suit against the hospital and the hospital was ordered to pay $92,511. Canaan Champion had sought $165,624.

Rose Law Firm attorneys represent both Canaan and Sean Champion.

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