Nashville General hospital report outlining deficiencies exempt from public records law, attorney says

Nashville General has declined to release its report from the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation that identified “serious deficiencies in several areas including patient safety, infection control and staffing,” reports Walter F. Roche Jr. on his blog.

Roche, a former investigative editor and reporter with The Tennessean who now writes a blog on Tennessee issues, requested to see the report after the hospital received an emergency infusion of $10 million from Davidson County Metro Council, part of which will be used to address the problems.

In the blog post, Nashville General won’t release critical report, Roche writes also that council members only received a summary of the report:

Citing an exception in the state Open Records Act, officials of Nashville General Hospital are refusing to release a report which was used as partial justification for an emergency $10 million cash infusion from Metro Council.

In a letter sent today Marc Overlock, general counsel to the hospital authority, denied a request for the critical report from the Joint Commission.

Citing a provision in the Open Records Act, Overlock wrote “Because that law has an exception for documents that are deemed by state law to be confidential, we are not authorized to release that report.”

The report was one of the major reasons given to Metro Council for the emergency cash infusion approved by the council last week.

The exemption cited is part of T.C.A. 68-11-210 “Inspections — Reports — Federal accreditation exemption.” It allows for the state not to conduct its own regular inspections of health care entities if the entity has obtained accreditation from a federally recognized accrediting health care organization.

The specific exemption is in 68-11-210 (b)(5)(C):

  (5)  (A) All health care facilities licensed by the department that have obtained accreditation from a federally recognized accrediting health care organization shall be deemed to meet all applicable licensing requirements. Such facilities may be subject to an inspection by the department and shall continue to be subject to subdivisions (b)(3)(D) and (E) but may be exempt from subdivision (a)(1) so long as the facility remains accredited.

      (B) In order to be issued a license by the department, such hospitals shall be required to annually remit the statutory licensing fees and a copy of a letter of current accreditation and accompanying report from the joint commission on accreditation of hospitals.

      (C) The report shall be maintained as a confidential record pursuant to § 10-7-504.

The statute says the state health department still has authority to conduct its own on-site inspection of accredited facilities “as may be necessary to safeguard and ensure, at all times, the public’s health, safety and welfare” or “to appropriately respond to complaints received from the public and to immediately act upon any determination by the board that the public’s health, safety or welfare is, or appears to be, threatened.”

A health department official told Roche that they do not receive copies of a hospital’s accreditation reports.

The Tennessean’s Joey Garrison covered the vote on the emergency $10 million allocation to the hospital, reporting that “even though even though the vote was unanimous, some council members questioned the late timing of the request. Had it not been been approved, meeting payroll next week was at stake for the hospital, which has struggled financially over the years.”

What do you think?