California health district board members question new media policy proposal

Some members of the El Camino Healthcare District board of directors are raising concerns about a draft media policy that proposes board members avoid statements that negatively affect corporate reputations of the district or El Camino Health, the Mountain Valley Voice reported May 18. 

El Camino Health has two hospitals, one in Mountain View, Calif., and another in Los Gatos, Calif., according to its website. The El Camino Healthcare District board oversees the assets of the ECHD, including El Camino Hospital. It is separate from the 10-member governing board of El Camino Hospital, which manages El Camino Hospital operations.

The El Camino Healthcare District board is mulling changes to a media policy that was first adopted by the district in 2016, an El Camino Health spokesperson told Becker's.  

"The initial draft changes, which were requested by the district board, were first proposed at its March meeting," the spokesperson, Christopher Brown, said. "Additional feedback was provided from [El Camino Health] communications, governance, legal and compliance at the May meeting. These proposed changes to the media policy were driven by the district."

According to the May agenda packet, the draft media policy calls for ECHD board members to direct all media inquiries regarding district activities and ECHD board actions to the CEO's office. The CEO then informs the ECHD board chair of media inquiries related to the district. 

"ECHD board members may respond to media inquiries for an individual opinion as an elected official, ensuring their opinion is not representative of the ECHD board or the district and that it does not negatively impact the corporate reputations of El Camino Healthcare District or El Camino Health," the draft policy states.

During the May ECHD board meeting, some board members expressed concerns that the draft policy would restrain their ability to speak freely to the media, the Voice reported. They particularly spoke about the clause related to reputation.

"I'm extremely nervous about this," board member John Zoglin said, according to the Mountain Valley Voice. "I don't know who decides if it negatively impacts the corporate reputation. And I'm very nervous about putting that kind of constraint."

Board member Carol Somersille, MD, said she "thought that was an odd phrase to put in there," according to the newspaper.

"It assumes that we will not have discretion when speaking to the media," she said.

ECHD board member Julia Miller, who was recently censured following allegations of repeated disrespect toward El Camino Health employees, also spoke on the issue.

"I think it's part of our elected position to make observations about things, what we possibly need improving or changing," she said, according to the Voice, asking staff to clarify the reasoning behind the changes.

According to the newspaper, Vineeta Hiranandani, El Camino Health's vice president of marketing and communications, told the board there is "a metric that we use called favorability, and depending on how the media have covered us on different issues, that favorability reading can go down, or it can stay where it is, or it can go up. One way to help impact that is to have a coordinated message to the media. And so we want to make sure that we are aware, if we reach out to the media, that there could be an impact to our corporate reputation."

Mr. Brown said the proposed changes to the media policy were driven by the district and are not related to the recent censure action by the board. 

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