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September 16, 2014

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UMC governing board seeks OK to meet in private

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Sam Morris / File photo

University Medical Center is Clark County's only publicly funded hospital.

Clark County Commissioners signaled mixed support today for a proposal to let University Medical Center’s newly formed governing board meet outside the public eye.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to forward a bill to the state Legislature that would add a special exemption to the open meetings law for UMC’s governing board.

Nevada law requires all meetings of public bodies be open to the public. An exception allows bodies to meet privately to discuss pending litigation.

John O’Reilly, chairman of the UMC governing board, said being forced to make strategic decisions about the hospital in public meetings gives an advantage to other competing hospitals in Las Vegas.

“While private hospitals that UMC competes with in this market have the ability to strategize and plan outside of the public eye, UMC has never had the luxury of doing so,” he wrote in a letter to the commission.

O’Reilly pointed out that any decisions made behind closed doors would still have to be approved in a public meeting.

The proposed language was written with the help of the District Attorney’s Office. It would allow the governing board to go into a private meeting to “receive information and consider strategic plans” in areas UMC competes with other hospitals. The measure would need approval by the Legislature next year before becoming law.

The proposal drew opposition from several commissioners, who worried that the wording wasn’t strict enough and would weaken the open meetings law.

“I could see where we need this for a specific purpose, but it seems like there’s a potential for abuse,” said Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who opposed the proposal with commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins. “I’m not seeing where this is so clearly delineated.”

A majority of commissioners, however, argued that the new governing board needed to be given tools to help make the ailing UMC more competitive.

“I don’t believe there’s anything nefarious about this. I don’t think they’re trying to sneak something behind closed doors or hide something from the public,” said Commissioner Larry Brown, who voted in favor of the proposal.

“This is to move forward with what we’ve asked (the board) to do, which is create change at UMC and make it more competitive,” Brown said.

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