Hospital Board Chair Acknowledges Closed Door Meeting With Medical Staff

Hospital Board Chair Acknowledges Closed Door Meeting With Medical Staff

Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Mathey acknowledges that a quorum of the board met with medical staff behind closed doors.

ROCK SPRINGS — Another situation involving Wyoming’s Open Meetings Laws came up again last week following a meeting of the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County Board of Trustees.

A special board meeting was held last Tuesday night with the general medical staff to get updates and gather general hospital information from CEO Irene Richardson.

Dr. Lawrence Lauridsen, Chief of Staff, told the board that the general medical staff met January 15th for “a largely informational briefing” and then again for the same purpose about a week prior to the February 26th meeting.

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Richardson then updated the board and staff about the hospital’s strategic plan process and several other informational items.

After the last item on the agenda, board chairman Richard Mathey stated the board had no business that would warrant an executive session, and adjourned the meeting.

A regular medical staff meeting was scheduled that evening following the Joint Special Workshop Meeting between the board and the medical staff.

SweetwaterNOW reporter Dave Arambel was in attendance and left the room for the few-minutes recess in between meetings, but upon return the doors were closed and was informed by hospital staff leaving the room that the meeting was closed.

Arambel reached out to Memorial Hospital that evening and was directed to Mathey the following day. Mathey acknowledged that at least three members of the board remained in the meeting, constituting a quorum.

“I believe the Medical Staff may conduct closed meetings without violating the open meetings statutes,” Mathey said. “They just can’t do it with a quorum of the Board of Trustees present.”

Mathey added the board did not conduct any business behind closed doors, and most of them left within about 15 minutes from the start of the medical staff meeting.

However, the decision to close the meeting door with a quorum of the board present does violate State Statute 16-4-402, section iii under “Definitions.”   

The law states:

“‘Meeting’ means an assembly of at least a quorum of the governing body of an agency which has been called by proper authority of the agency for the expressed purpose of discussion, deliberation, presentation of information or taking action regarding public business.”    

If the board was simply on-hand to listen to informational presentations, this would still constitute an open meetings violation if three or more trustees were present.

“I left ten or fifteen minutes into the Medical Staff meeting and I believe the trustees who were still in attendance also left at that time, but I’m not certain,” Mathey added. “Assuming they did, you’re still correct, and I apologize on my behalf and on behalf of the full Board of Trustees.”

“I stayed for a short while to listen to a couple of medical reports…but left when the Chairman of the Medical Staff excused us to leave” said board member Marty Kelsey.

Mathey also offered a suggestion that might help avoid any misunderstanding in the future. 

“The open door/closed door method of indicating whether a meeting in progress is open or closed to the public is insufficient, and I’m going to ask for signs on the doors,” Mathey said. “’This meeting is open to the public’ on one side. ‘This meeting is closed to the public’ on the other side.”

“People shouldn’t have to guess, and if the meeting is open people should not be made to feel uncomfortable about entering.”

This situation comes on the heels of an investigation into whether members of the Sweetwater County School District No. 1 board of trustees illegally conducted a meeting shortly after the elections last year.

The investigation exonerated the board members of any wrongdoing, but at least one board member not present at the meeting in question believed it “violated the spirit of the law.”