Angered by the impending merger of Stanford University Health Services and University of California-San Francisco Mount Zion Medical Center, a state lawmaker wants that deal and such future transactions subject to California's strict public disclosure and open meetings laws.
"The public has the right to know what's happening to the money of a public entity," said state Sen. John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat. Burton introduced the two pieces of legislation March 20. They have yet to come to a vote in either the Senate or Assembly.
The bills would apply when any hospital owned by the state was sold or transferred to another organization and the state cedes more than 50% of governing control.
Such entities would be subject to state open meetings regulations and the California Public Records Act. Under those laws, boards of trustees may only hold closed sessions regarding personnel matters. Members of the media and the public also could request most financial and internal documents associated with the organization.
Burton said he introduced the bills because he was angered by the way the University of California Board of Regents, which governs 365-bed University of California-San Francisco Mount Zion Medical Center and is required by law to hold public meetings, allegedly concealed terms of its negotiations with Stanford Health Services. The latter operates a 631-bed hospital in Stanford, about 50 miles south of the medical center.
"I would have nothing against an open merger between two facilities, but this was all done in secret," said Burton, considered one of California's most liberal lawmakers. Also a staunch union ally, Burton said he was upset by the fact that many UCSF employees would not have their benefits protected after the merger was completed this summer.
Stanford officials oppose such disclosure.
"It would be increasingly difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to be able to compete with other providers if we had to release every detail of our operations to the public," said Stanford spokesman Terry Shepard.
UCSF officials were not immediately available for comment.
The UC regents and Stanford Health trustees overwhelmingly approved last November a merger of Northern California's two most prestigious teaching hospitals, citing a greater ability to control costs and compete in a tough managed-care market.
However, the hospitals have endured extreme criticism from community activists and from unions. Among the latest controversies is a charge from a student member of the UC regents that his board violated the public meeting law the same month the merger was approved. Despite repeated requests from the media, the regents have yet to release a transcript of the meeting, blaming the quality of its audiotapes.