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Slap: Dallas Hospital Sues Attorney General to Block Reporters' Access

Slap: Dallas Hospital Sues Attorney General to Block Reporters' Access

Picture of William Heisel

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas is a public hospital.

This may surprise you because the hospital has fought so hard to keep information about how it spends public resources – $1.2 billion in public resources – a secret.

The hospital sued the Texas Attorney General three times to block access to records of the most basic elements of how a hospital does business: patient grievance procedures, sterilization of medical instruments and Medicare overcharges.

The hospital has defended itself in court so many times over patient lawsuits that the Dallas Morning News wanted to write about how much money the hospital had spent on one case in particular: the death of Irene Arancibia in 2003. Parkland sued the attorney general to block the paper's access to court documents.

Then, in August, Parkland sued the attorney general for the fifth time in a case related to the Morning News. Again, the goal is to block access. As Brooks Egerton at the Morning News writes:

This time the goal is to block release of Parkland police department records dealing with the psychiatric emergency room. The News is not seeking medical records.

It is arrogant – to say the least – for the leaders of a publicly owned entity to attempt to block access to public records it does not even control. Who do they think they answer to?

Now, Antidote understands why Parkland's leadership might feel defensive. The Morning News has been on a roll in uncovering problems at Parkland.

Earlier this month, Ryan McNeill, a USC Annenberg National Health Fellow, and Daniel Lathrop wrote a piece titled Parkland in Dallas has been among Texas' worst hospitals for patient safety for years, analysis shows. That's not a headline any hospital administrator wants to see.

Public ownership of hospitals is dwindling. Suzanne Sataline at The Wall Street Journal wrote last year that public hospitals – once one-fifth of all the hospitals in the country – might not even exist in the next 20 years.

Sales and mergers of public hospitals are hard to quantify; the country had 16 fewer government-owned hospitals in 2008 than 2003, says the American Hospital Association, the result of sales, closings or transfers. Health-care consultants and financial analysts say the pace of all hospital sales is picking up at a rate not seen since the 1990s, the dawn of managed care. James Burgdorfer, a partner with investment banker Juniper Advisory LLC in Chicago, said most public systems would end in the next two decades because the industry has become too complex for local politicians. "By the nature of their small size, their independence and their political entanglements, they are poorly equipped to survive,'' Mr. Burgdorfer said.

But a public hospital is not inherently good just by being public. It may have noble goals. Parkland, for example, says on its website, "By our actions, we will define the standards of excellence for public academic health systems."

To live up to that promise, Parkland needs to not only provide excellent care but to prove that it is being a good steward of the money and trust placed in it by Texans.

Antidote is going out on a limb here, but we are willing to bet that no other public hospital system has sued a state attorney general this many times. If you can find one, send me a note at askantidote@gmail.com, and I will send you a prize.

Photo credit: Alexandre Normand via Flickr

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