Jacobs: Shining light on hospital, public’s business

Anyone who couldn’t make it to what was announced as a Feb. 16 public tour of the closed Nye Regional Medical Center in Tonopah didn’t miss anything except for a dustup over who could not attend.

The tour was posted as a public notice of the Northern Nye County Hospital District Board of Trustees.

But when a Times-Bonanza reporter showed up for the 4:30 p.m. event, he was told by board member Roni Link that he could not go on the tour. She cited an objection by Renown Health of Reno, which operates a telemedicine office across the parking lot from the shuttered hospital that closed its doors in August 2015.

At the time, no specifics on the Renown objections were given to the Times-Bonanza on why I could not go on the tour with the hospital board, a five-member public board.

As board members gathered outside the closed hospital for what was announced in advance to the public as a tour, I repeatedly objected to board members and an on-site Renown staffer to my being left out.

I cited possible issues with Nevada’s open meetings law, immediately contacted Times-Bonanza Editor Arnold Knightly and tried to reach the Nye County government administrative office off Radar Road in Tonopah.

As we stood in the cold and discussed my objections, hospital board Chairman Kenneth Eason stepped up and promptly canceled the tour.

About a week earlier, while visiting the U.S. Post Office in downtown Tonopah, I learned of the tour and confirmed the details of the public notice with the county by telephone.

It was my understanding through public posting of the tour that any member of the public could attend. So in theory, hundreds could have shown up. But I was the only person from the public, arriving just after the hospital board’s regular meeting in the county commission chambers off Radar Road.

If I hadn’t objected to being left out, a look at the inside of the old hospital would have gone on without me or any public look.

Later, I contacted Assistant County Manager Lorina Dellinger. I spoke with her twice about the situation, including questioning my later seeing some hospital board members and could go inside the Renown telemedicine office without the public.

“They shouldn’t have denied you access,” Dellinger said of the overall event announced as the “Renown Medical Group Campus Tour.”

“I’ll let them know that they can’t deny the public access if they are touring something,” she said. “If Renown is not going to be agreeable to that then the board can’t even take a tour.”

“The chairman canceling was appropriate or else they definitely would have been in violation by not letting you tour with them,” Dellinger said.

She said Renown was not aware of the “fact” that the hospital board is a “public body and they have to abide by open meeting laws.”

“That part was just not extended to them — Renown,” Dellinger said.

“I just don’t know that they (Renown) connected it (tour) as far as it being part of their public meeting,” Dellinger said, adding that Renown was not prepared for a public tour.

The county had issued a public notice of the tour as an additional meeting besides the one at Radar Road earlier in the day, Dellinger said. “That part I just don’t know, if Renown realized it had to be open to the public as well,” she added.

The “right call” was made to cancel the tour, Dellinger said. “By not letting you in, if they did tour, we definitely would have had a problem,” she said.

“If the public body’s going to tour, the public has to, as well,” Dellinger said.

Renown response

On Feb. 17, I spoke with a Renown representative in Reno. Renown is new to Tonopah, having opened the telemedicine center last June.

“I think what’s happening is we’re still navigating and figuring out the processes between us and the county,” Renown spokeswoman Allison Williams said. “I think that’s part of it.”

Referring to the hospital board, Dellinger told me Feb. 16: “Obviously, they need to be educated a bit more on the open meeting laws, and if there’s going to be a quorum somewhere, and when the public is allowed. They are not a private entity.”

“I appreciate your letting me know so I can address these issues,” Dellinger said.

Dellinger noted the hospital board is new, with its members just taking office in January.

“There still needs to be education that needs to happen with them, but I apologize,” Dellinger said. “It definitely was supposed to be open to the public.”

Besides Eason and Link, the other new hospital board members are Karmin Greber, Cathie Clifford and Justin Zimmerman. That board is expected to be in charge of budgeting about $614,000 in public revenue in the coming 2017-18 budget year that starts this July 1, the county tells me.

From a reporter perspective, it appeared that chairman Eason arrived just in time, his action representing a victory of sorts when it comes to public access to the peoples’ business. And from Dellinger’s words, the message about future openness and access is clear.

With Nye Regional’s closure, the ill and injured, plus volunteer ambulance crews, need to travel more than 100 miles to reach the nearest hospitals in Bishop, California and Hawthorne in Nevada’s Mineral County. Adding medical services is priority for Tonopah, Goldfield and beyond.

People are waiting and watching.

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com