Outreach, Talk of Transparency Take Stage at Health Share's Community Advisory Council

Board meetings will have 'open sessions by invitation' and board meeting minutes will be available by request

May 8, 2013 – Following a relatively brief discussions of the ongoing Community Health Needs Assessment, the Mental Health and Addictions Committee and an update from CEO Janet Meyer – and a preview of the new member handbook – Health Share of Oregon's community advisory council went into an executive session that, according to the meeting agenda, was slated to last two hours.

Council member Sonja Ervin updated the council on the community health needs assessment it's currently preparing to perform, including feedback the group recently received from Healthy Columbia Willamette about which questions it should be asking and which groups it should be trying to reach.

“We're really looking at what has already been done, and what's missing? We want to make sure that we're taking what's already there and just building and improving off it,” Ervin said. “There was a lot of discussion about how to improve engagement.”

Dan Peccia, speaking on behalf of the Mental Health and Addictions Committee, said the committee has made a list of the other mental health advisory groups around the tri-county area and will be reaching out to ask what their needs are.

Meyer opened her remarks by discussing a presentation made during the public section of Health Share's last board meeting, by CAC member Joseph Lowe and community engagement program coordinator Jacob Figas, on issues discussed during the community advisory council's retreat. According to communications manager Beth Sorensen, the presentation focused on strengthening the relationship between the board and the CAC through more two-way communication and discussion; developing a one-year action plan for the CAC that is informed by Health Share staff; and planning multiple ways to engage the public and Health Share members, in addition to public meetings of the CAC.

“We were trying to talk about how we can improve that transparency,” Meyer said, though during her presentation she did not discuss the specific recommendations. “Your report had a direct impact on changing how Health Share operates.”

After the meeting concluded, Sorensen told the Lund Report that as a result of council members' presentation, members of the public will be able to request meeting minutes of each board meeting, adding that portions of each board meeting are open to the public by invitation. “Health Share staff is currently working with the CAC executive committee to draft a proposed public engagement plan, including activities the board, staff and CAC can do to increase transparency and community participation,” Sorensen added.

The council also reviewed copies of the member handbook, the English version of which is available online. Translations into other languages are currently under way, though consumers who want Braille handbooks need to call customer service.

Council member Amy Anderson said the contact information for complaints in the member handbook is different from that distributed to other OHP members, and asked for more details about how the complaint process works.

The CCO is trying to streamline that process, Health Share compliance and quality improvement manager said, and is beginning to collect data on the type of complaints it receives and whether they pertain to, for instance, negative interactions with providers or with the insurer. “You can actually call and say 'I am a Health Share Kaiser member and I have a complaint,” Carey said.

The council then adjourned for a break and went into an executive session slated to last nearly two hours.

“Mostly, what we do in our executive session is orientation and training,” Meyer said, adding that closing parts of the meetings for training creates a “relaxed, comfortable atmosphere” for training. In the future, the council may need to use executive sessions to deal with dismissing members, Meyer said, though the council is not authorized to deal with issues traditionally addressed in closed sessions by bodies that are subject to open meetings law – such as financial or personnel matters pertaining to paid staff. The council also does not have access to members' personal health information.

At the beginning of the council meeting, the sole public comment touched on concerns about transparency, accountability and integrity.

“It's really important for those of us on the Community Advisory Council to get comments from the public,” said council chair Steve Weiss when the meeting began. “We've gotten a lot of comments from providers, but not from consumers.”

Debra Hubbard – who told The Lund Report she is an OHP consumer – read from the advisory council's charter, noting its goals of engaging OHP members, the high-risk uninsured and community partners, and focusing on customer service and satisfaction, as well as its values of accountability, transparency, integrity, collaboration and sustainability.

“I am still waiting to see any of these start,” Hubbard said. She did not elaborate and was not asked any questions by council members, but did discuss her concerns with the Lund Report after the meeting.

“In every meeting, there are papers that the public are not allowed to see. Why?” she said. “They have many subcommittee meetings that the public are not allowed to go to.” Hubbard said she hasn't received straightforward answers to many of her questions and concerns, including her need for accessibility. Hubbard uses a wheelchair to get around, and also said she has hearing and vision impairments, as well as a mental health diagnosis. She said getting transportation to meetings has been a challenge, she has not always been able to get meeting materials in large print and some of the meeting spaces have been difficult to access in a wheelchair.

“I'm ornery. I'm determined to get the services I need,” Hubbard said.

In response to Hubbard's comments, Health Share of Oregon submitted the following statement to The Lund Report:

“Health Share is very committed to making all CAC meetings accessible to the public and accommodating people with any needs that may present a barrier to participation. All of our meeting spaces are ADA accessible.

“Based on requests from the public we have committed to having a transcriptionist transcribe conversations, and will provide interpretation services when requested in advance. Every month when we announce the CAC meetings, we ask people to contact us and identify any additional accommodations they need. This offer to assist with special accommodations is always included in all meeting announcements sent out to our listserv, as well as in all press releases and is posted on our website. We have been providing all public meeting materials in large print copies, although, unfortunately, at this last meeting we forgot to bring them to the meeting room, therefore they were delayed. However, they were then made available.

“We do not provide transportation to meetings for the general public, only for CAC members, but make efforts to host the meetings in locations that are easily accessible by public transportation. We’re always happy to take suggestions for alternate meeting locations. We have had very packed rooms at a couple of our meetings, and while this is exciting for us, because we like to hear from as many members of the community as possible, we acknowledge that a couple of our meetings have been so crowded that it was difficult to navigate the room.

“Although the meetings of our CAC’s Mental Health and Addictions Committee and Community Health Needs Assessment Committee (not “sub committees”, please) are not open to the public, we have invited members of the community to participate in them to help inform the thinking of the group and ensure that the information discussed is as relevant as possible.

“Regarding meeting materials not included in the packets handed out to the public, in an effort to save paper (many of the packets produced for the public meetings are thrown away) we sometimes omit documents that contain large numbers of pages when they are not essential to understanding the conversation. We are happy to provide those electronically by request. At other times the CAC is reviewing draft documents that are not ready to be posted publicly yet, because they are in draft form. In those cases we do not include the materials in the public meeting packet so that there are not multiple versions of health share documents posted online.

“In addition, we always provide copies of agendas and minutes from both Committees to the public. Those meeting materials, as well as Council minutes, are also posted to Health Share’s website.”

Christen McCurdy can be reached at [email protected]

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This article explains exactly why we need to have CCO and the Community Advisory Committies comply with Oregon's Public Records and Meeting law (Oregon Revised Statute 192).