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July 22, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 22, 2005

Openness is right track for hospital Openness is right track for hospital (July 22, 2005)

When any government agency attempts to operate as a private business with the public's money, it invites heavy scrutiny, and deservedly so.

Taxpayers who support government operations are entitled to know where their money goes and how it is spent. The more transparency the better.

That is why the recent effort by El Camino Hospital to explain its sometimes difficult-to-understand financial operations is encouraging, and we hope it will lead to increased public understanding about how the hospital is governed and conducts its business.

At a recent board meeting, hospital CEO Lee Domanico and hospital board members responded to requests by private citizens and the League of Women Voters to be more upfront about expenditures and other money issues. The League said it is particularly concerned about how the hospital will spend nearly $150 million in bond monies approved by voters in 2003.

The other issue -- disclosure of compensation agreements between the hospital and its top executives, including Domanico -- follows a legal battle between the hospital and the Voice that resulted in the release of the CEO's pay and benefit package, and the promise, repeated in these latest meetings, that more would be released in October.

During the recent meeting, board members said they were torn between releasing or keeping out of the public eye such personal information. The board's initial strategy in the Voice case argued that the hospital did not have to reveal Domanico's income, a position that ultimately changed when the hospital's CEO released his compensation for the 2004-05 fiscal year. The disclosure: Domanico made more than $900,000, including reimbursement for some relocation expenses incurred when he moved to the area several years ago.

In agreeing to share such salary information, and being more aware of the public's interest in its operations, the hospital is moving in the right direction. By many accounts, and from various tests and awards, the hospital is doing a good job for its patients and is financially successful.

Now we are looking forward to the hospital applying that same energy to becoming a truly public agency that operates in the sunshine with as much disclosure as possible. That is the best way for El Camino to serve its constituents and its patients.

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